2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 3,865 yards (32nd)
Offensive Touchdowns: 24 (31st)
Offensive Plays: 902 (31st)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 547 (25th)
Rush Attempts: 355 (28th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 43 (29th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 31 (24th)
No offseason coaching change projects to have as big a fantasy impact as the Cardinals bringing in Kliff Kingsbury to replace Steve Wilks. Arizona ran just 902 plays a season ago, which would have been the lowest total since 2006 if the Dolphins had not been even worse. Over Kingsbury’s six-year run at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders finished inside the top 10 in plays per game in all but one season with three top-two finishes. The Cardinals are not going to run 81 plays per game like Tech did last season – no NFL team has ever topped 1,200 plays and just seven have run more than 1,150 in a season – but it would not be shocking if Arizona’s offense takes 150 more snaps this year. Even without any improvement from an efficiency perspective, that volume increase will do wonders for the position players.
The worst kept secret in the league became official when the Cardinals selected Kyler Murray with the first overall pick and sent 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen to Miami over draft weekend. Murray would have been an exciting fantasy prospect no matter where he landed, but ending up with a coach who clearly views him as a perfect fit for his offense is a big plus.
As mentioned above, Murray should get plenty of opportunities to score fantasy points right out of the gate. As Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar noted following the draft, quarterbacks averaged 701.1 combined passing and rushing attempts under Kingsbury during his college days. It would not be surprising if Murray topped 600 attempts as a rookie – Andrew Luck currently owns the rookie record at 627 attempts – and he has the talent to take advantage of those opportunities. On top of that, Murray brings high-end rushing upside to the table. He averaged 71.5 rushing yards per game at Oklahoma last season and scored 12 times on 140 attempts. Those are not quite Lamar Jackson numbers, but Murray should be near the top of the quarterback rushing leaderboard as a rookie, giving him a nice fantasy floor even if the passing production does not immediately translate.
The downside for Murray could end up being his draft cost. His ADP has remained reasonable through the early part of the summer, but it has already started to climb and will undoubtedly rocket up if he shows well in the preseason. That is a problem because the value Murray offers is elite potential at a discounted rate, which will not remain the case if his draft stock continues to climb a la Baker Mayfield. It is certainly possible everything comes together and Murray puts up top-five production as a rookie, but drafting him that high removes a lot of the reward while leaving all of the risk.
As for Murray’s weapons, the conversation has to begin with Larry Fitzgerald, who has led the Cardinals in targets every season since 2006. The veteran had a down year with “only” 69 catches for 734 yards (10.6 YPR) in addition to his customary six touchdowns, but it is tough to fault him in what was the least productive passing game in the league. He should be in a much better situation this season, and the expected increase in passing volume will help him maintain his target total even if he is jumped in the pecking order by one of the younger receivers. Turning 36 in August, it is certainly possible Fitzgerald just hits a wall, but it is tough to find guys with his projected usage in the double-digit rounds.
The most likely candidate to jump Fitzgerald if it happens is second-round sophomore Christian Kirk, who notched 43 catches for 590 yards (13.7 YPR) and three touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie before heading to injured reserve with a broken foot. Fully recovered, Kirk reportedly put on a show during the offseason program and looked like “the best receiver on the roster,” which is not surprising given how he played as a rookie. A playmaker after the catch who should be put in good spots by the new coaching staff, Kirk is a prime breakout candidate and a great upside selection in the middle rounds.
Short on depth and likely to go four-wide as often as any offense in the league, the Cardinals wisely invested three draft picks at receiver, landing Andy Isabella in the second round, Hakeem Butler in the fourth, and KeeSean Johnson in the sixth. Arizona also took a flier on Kevin White in free agency. As it stands, draft cost would suggest Isabella is the favorite for the No. 3 job, but Butler is also a talented player who offers a lot more size (6-foot-5, 227 pounds) than the other receivers at the top of the depth chart. Things might end up too spread out behind the top two receivers for any of the rookies to emerge as fantasy options this year, but they are names to watch in the preseason.
While this offense should be good for the receivers, it is a more questionable change for the tight ends, a position which aside from Jace Amaro was mostly forgotten about during Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech. Of course, that could change as the new coach looks to adapt his offense to the NFL game, and the addition of Charles Clay early in the offseason suggests tight ends will be more important moving forward. Moreover, Ricky Seals-Jones is not really a tight end in the traditional sense – Kingsbury recruited him to Texas A&M as a receiver – and it is possible he is used almost exclusively as a pass catcher in the new scheme. He is nothing more than a late-round flier in deeper formats, but RSJ does at least carry some upside.
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Torpedoed by a terrible offense and questionable play calling, David Johnson is coming off his least efficient season since entering the league in 2015. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, 8.9 yards per reception, and 4.5 yards per touch after averaging 4.3, 11.5, and 5.9 in those categories over his first three years. Johnson deserves some of the blame for the downturn, but he was not helped by an offensive line which offered just 1.26 yards before contact, almost a half yard less than in 2016, and a coaching staff which kept running him straight into the back of those blockers while failing to use him down the field in the passing game – Johnson’s average depth of target fell from 5.2 his first three seasons to 1.8 last year. The offensive line remains a concern, but it would be a surprise if the other two issues continue under Kingsbury.
Despite the efficiency struggles, Johnson was still a workhorse in 2018. He handled 72.7 percent of the carries, was targeted on 15.4 percent of the throws, and was the only Cardinal to get a carry inside the five-yard line. Arizona does have a solid backup option in 2018 fourth-rounder Chase Edmonds, who is one of the more interesting pure handcuffs, and Kingsbury did spread the ball around in the backfield during his time at Tech. He also used DeAndre Washington as a workhorse for two seasons, however, and Johnson is perhaps Arizona’s best player on offense. Especially given the likely increase in overall volume, opportunity will not be a concern even if those opportunities lean more toward the passing game than the running game. Despite coming off two disappointing seasons, Johnson is worth a pick in the middle of the first round.
Arizona’s over/under currently sits at five most places after they went 3-13 a season ago. A lot has changed since then to increase the excitement around the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but this roster still has issues. The offensive line remains a concern, there is very little quality depth both along the edge and at inside linebacker despite the additions of Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks in free agency, and a secondary which otherwise might have been fine will now be without Patrick Peterson for the first six games. Arizona also has a tough looking schedule based on Vegas odds with few “easy” games. Five feels like the right number, so passing is probably the correct move. If forced to pick, I would take the over with the assumption Murray and the offense spark a couple of surprising wins.