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Team Previews

Cardinals Fantasy Preview

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: July 24, 2020, 6:03 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,467 (21st) 
Offensive Touchdowns: 38 (18th)   
Offensive Plays: 1,000 (22nd)   
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 604 (16th)     
Rush Attempts: 396 (19th) 
Unaccounted for Targets: 156 (Fifth)  
Unaccounted for Carries: 98 (12th)  

 

Coaching Staff

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Kliff Kingsbury was hired to transform the Cardinals’ offense, but his rookie year was one of growing pains. Lacking the personnel to fully implement his vaunted four-receiver looks, Kingsbury oscillated between pass-happy and run-heavy. When Kingsbury did take to the air, he couldn’t decide on a vertical or horizontal attack behind the Cardinals’ leaky offensive line. What might smack of indecision on the surface was actually encouraging if you look underneath the hood. A lack of flexibility has been a fatal flaw for more than one offensive auteur. With the Cardinals not realistic competitors for a playoff spot, Kingsbury wisely spent the year experimenting as dual-threat QB Kyler Murray found his sea legs. Kingsbury also successfully pivoted from a creaking David Johnson in the running game to an ascendant Kenyan Drake. When it was all said and done, Kingsbury still deployed four wideouts 31 percent of the time, hopefully a sneak preview for this year’s upgraded receiver group. The Cardinals ran 98 more plays than the year prior and graduated from the league’s second slowest offense to its fourth fastest.    

Passing Game

QB: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley      
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Andy Isabella   
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Butler   
WR: Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson
TE: Maxx Williams, Dan Arnold     

One of the easiest ways to win a fantasy league? Find the next quarterback cheat code, a la Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Josh Allen is sucking up all the Twitter oxygen this summer, but it’s Murray who has the better case. Not that this is a controversial statement, as Murray’s ADP is generally one spot ahead of Allen’s. Murray is everything Allen is not, offering smoothness as a runner and accuracy as a passer. He makes fewer mistakes and faster decisions. Murray does have to cut down on his sacks after taking a league-leading 48 of them as a rookie. A huge part of that was his offensive line, though any improvement to Murray’s blocking will be modest after only third-round tackle Josh Jones was added to the mix. This means Murray must get even savvier and quicker.

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One of the biggest factors in Murray’s relatively quiet rookie campaign — one that still produced OROY honors — was his lack of weapons at pass catcher. Larry Fitzgerald could be counted on to do the dirty work over the middle of the field, but second-year pro Christian Kirk was wildly uneven as he shuttled between the slot and boundary. Tight end? Charles Clay “led” the group with 18 receptions. Behind Fitzgerald and Kirk, the Cardinals’ receiver talent fell off a cliff. Hakeem Butler was redshirted with a seemingly not-serious finger injury while Andy Isabella struggled to get on the field even after scoring a scintillating 88-yard touchdown in Week 8. Damiere Byrd, KeeSean Johnson and Pharoh Cooper took up space. Of those three, only second-year sixth-rounder Johnson remains on the roster. Overall, depth remains an issue. Isabella, Butler and Johnson comprise one of the league’s sleepier No. 4 receiver competitions. Journeymen Maxx Williams and Dan Arnold will duke it out up the seam. 

But if the group isn’t deeper, it is more top heavy. DeAndre Hopkins isn’t just a No. 1 receiver, he’s a No. 1 amongst No. 1s. His move to Arizona transforms both his fortunes and Murray’s. Bill O’Brien made life difficult for Hopkins in 2019, turning him into an Edelman-ian type chain mover instead of a sideline dominator. With his average depth of target plummeting from 12.2 to 10.5, Hopkins’ yards per catch plunged from 13.7 to 11.2. If BOB has a tendency to make offense look hard, Kingsbury wants it to be as easy as possible, spreading defenses out to create cushions and space. 

One of the pre-eminent body control artists of his generation, Hopkins is a match made in heaven with Murray’s drop-in-a-bucket accuracy outside the numbers. Fantasy drafters have been concerned about a decrease in volume — Hopkins has reached at least 150 targets five years running — but no team was more starved for quality looks than Arizona. Hopkins should dominate targets just as thoroughly as he did in Houston. 150 is a reasonable over/under in an offense that could spike its attempts from 550 to near 600. Even if you think Hopkins will fall back to the 130-140 range, top-five WR1 status is a given. Hopkins’ WR1 overall odds are as good as anybody else’s. 

It gets more confusing behind Hopkins. A famous second half fader over the past half-decade, Fitzgerald never had a hot streak to cool off from last season, producing in fantasy like the rugged slot receiver he was. Larry Legend was the WR62 by average points in standard and WR48 in PPR. Even if the Cardinals’ offense takes its expected step forward, there is little reason to count on those numbers meaningfully improving. 

Kirk is the wild card. A bright spot for an historically bad unit in 2018, Kirk could not take advantage of plus usage last season. His 23 percent target share was 17th amongst receivers, but he was merely 50th in yards (709) and 35th in catches (68). He was a distant 63rd in yards per route run, checking in behind such luminaries as Zach Pascal and Auden Tate. Big plays were nonexistent, with just six of Kirk’s 68 grabs going for 20-plus. Aside from 100-yard outbursts in Weeks 2 and 7, Kirk cleared 50 only four other times. Even in an improved offensive environment, Kirk will have trouble pushing for WR3 status.   

Beyond the Cardinals’ “big three,” it is difficult to envision how things might shake out. As impressive as second-rounder Isabella’s athletic profile was, he never earned the coaching staff’s trust in a disappointing receiver corps. On the rare occasions Isabella did get on the field, he made the most of it, catching 9-of-13 targets and averaging 14.5 yards per look. That, of course, was goosed by his 88-yard score, but that big play speaks to his potential. Still only 23 with 4.31 wheels in an offense that should feature easier looks for its peripheral players with Hopkins drawing defensive heat, Isabella is a justifiable late-round flier in 14-team leagues. 

There is less to latch onto with Butler following his lost rookie year, though Kingsbury insists he remains optimistic. "Tons of ability," Kingsbury said of Butler in May. "He’s been working hard this offseason. He knows what we expect of him, and what we think he can be. I'm really excited when we can finally get him back on the field." A wasted pick in re-draft formats, Butler deserves to survive Dynasty league cutdowns for the time being. Johnson had the most rookie production, but going on 24 with 4.6 speed, his upside is scant.     

Tight end is bleak. Williams was an intriguing pass catcher in the 2015 draft class, but he has just 46 receptions over the past three seasons. He did raise eyebrows with 11.4 yards per target in 2019. The Athletic reported in May that 6-foot-6 Arnold might carve out a red zone role. Either way, Kingsbury entered the NFL with a reputation for not featuring tight ends and did nothing to challenge that perception.

  

Running Game 

RB: Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin    
OL (L-R): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Mason Cole, J.R. Sweezy, Marcus Gilbert/Josh Jones 

Drake is the unquestioned every-down back after he went from trade deadline flier to one-man committee in 2019. Drake was simply sensational last season, producing as the league’s fifth-leading rusher following his Week 9 arrival while averaging 5.3 yards per carry and reeling off 20 10-plus yard gains. The latter number tied for second with Nick Chubb in the second half of the season. Drake made surprisingly little impact through the air, turning 28 catches into an underwhelming 171 yards. That could leave the door open for Chase Edmonds, who will see snaps regardless in an offense that wants to push the pace and pile up plays. Edmonds entered the league with a strong pass-catching profile.

Not that Drake will struggle for receptions. He was a proven play-maker in the passing game for the Dolphins. Drake profiles as an every-week RB1 in a rushing attack that was amongst the best designed in the NFL in 2019. Edmonds figures to lack standalone value but is an elite handcuff as a potential three-down option in the event of a Drake injury. The featured back for one game last season, Edmonds turned 29 touches into 150 Week 7 yards against the Giants. Had he not injured his hamstring the following week, the Cardinals might never have acquired Drake. 

Speaking before the draft, Kingsbury said he wanted three viable backs. Seventh-rounder Eno Benjamin was added as the third. Benjamin piled up 77 receptions over his final two seasons at Arizona State, displaying impressive wiggle and a low center of gravity. Even as a seventh-rounder, Benjamin should be stashed away in Dynasty leagues. 

Perhaps the biggest concern for Drake’s fantasy production is Murray, who emerged from his rookie year with a 93/544/4/5.8 rushing slash despite some hamstring woes. Murray isn’t quite L-Jax on the ground, but he boasts rare rushing ability for a signal caller. 

 

Win Total 

The Cardinals’ over/under is generally installed at seven after last year’s 5-10-1 campaign. We know the Cardinals have offensive upside, but they still have a lack of overall talent on defense. The offensive line’s ceiling is “league average.” There is also the matter of the division, probably the NFL’s toughest. Despite those six games against the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams, Warren Sharp rates the Cardinals’ schedule as middle of the road. After a Week 1 road trip to San Francisco, the Birds have a tissue-soft four-game run in vs. WAS, vs. DET, @CAR and @NYJ. The schedule stiffens significantly following their Week 8 bye, though they come off the break against the Dolphins at home. With the Niners a regression candidate and the Rams something of a question mark, 8-9 wins is highly achievable for this on-the-rise squad.   

Patrick Daugherty
Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .