2015 Fantasy Football: Arizona Cardinals Team Preview
Being stuck in the NFC West has not been fun for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. A 10-6 record wasn’t even good enough to get them to the playoffs in 2013, and an 11-5 record in 2014 landed them a measly Wild Card Round matchup with the Panthers, which they lost. Such is life in the toughest division in football. Had Carson Palmer not gotten hurt last year, the results may have been different, as they went 3-4 from that point on, but coming up with excuses is easy. The reality is that they just weren’t a great team. Good, but not great. With Palmer recovered from his ACL tear, the team will bring a mix of old and new to the offense and their defense should be stout as always.
The Cards’ 2015 season begins with some easier opponents (Saints, @Bears, 49ers), but concludes with a really tough stretch in which they’ll play the Rams, Vikings, Eagles, Packers and Seahawks to close out the season. They’ll also get the AFC North as their inter-conference matchup this year, which means dates against the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and Browns. If the Cards’ make it back to the playoffs, it will be well-deserved.
Carson Palmer has made a full recovery since tearing his ACL in Week 10 vs. the Rams last year, and will be running the show in the desert once again. At 35, Palmer is no spring chicken, but with his age comes maturity and experience. When Palmer went down last year, the team looked lost. They used a motley crew of Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas to fill the void, and it was a huge failure. Stanton was the best of the three, throwing for four touchdowns and five picks with a 58.5 completion percentage. If he was the best, then it really goes to show how lacking the position was without their veteran QB at the helm. Palmer’s numbers don’t blow you away, but he’s been very consistent throughout his career, throwing for 21+ TD in the seven years in which he’s played at least 15 games. Prior to last year, he had thrown for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Palmer is currently the 24th QB off the board, according to FantasyPros.com. If you believe he is over is knee issues, then he represents an excellent late-round snag as your QB1. If healthy, his fantasy prospects are better than Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater, whom are all being drafted ahead of the former Heisman winner.
The running back position is something the Cardinals have struggled with for years. The last time the Cards had a 1,000-yard rusher was Beanie Wells back in 2011. Since then, Andre Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall and LaRod Stephens-Howling (seriously) have been their top ball carriers. That Stephens-Howling’s 357 yards in 2012 led the team is a testament to how bad it’s been for their ground game.
The Cards had high hopes for Ellington last year, but a foot injury poured cold water all over that. He still managed to rack up 660 yards on the ground and an additional 395 through the air, but he totaled just five touchdowns. From what we saw last year, it’s clear that Ellington doesn’t have the chops to be an every-down back, nor does he have the size to be the goal line guy. He has upside in PPR leagues, but his ADP of 40 is a bit too steep for someone who may only get 10-12 carries per game (compared to the 17 or so he got last year). I’d rather hitch my wagon to Alfred Morris and Mark Ingram, who may not be big pass-catchers, but are locked in to RB1 roles.
The dark horse for fantasy value in the Cardinals backfield is rookie David Johnson. At 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, Johnson is the big, bruising back the Cardinals have lacked in the red zone. It may take a few games, but Johnson could very well assume the goal line job and run away with it. He had 141 catches in his four years at Northern Iowa, too, so he’s not just a plow forward-type player in the Andre Williams mold. FantasyFootballCalculator.com has Johnson inching up the fantasy draft boards, going from pick 11.04 to 10.03 in just the last month. Hopefully his price doesn’t keep rising, but as of now, his ADP of 111 in PPR leagues makes him an almost must-draft if he’s still available in that ninth-to 10th-round range. Long runs and acrobatic catches are fun and all, but in fantasy, touchdowns are king. Just ask Matt Asiata‘s owners from last year.
Fitzgerald saw a drop in yards and catches in 2014, but things had already been trending that way anyhow. He’ll be 32 this year and his best days are behind him, but his lack of counting stats were also a product of their QB situation. It’s difficult to perform well when you have QBs throwing to you that should probably be playing in NFL Europe. I don’t think we’ll see another 1,000-yard season out of the future Hall of Famer, but an increase in receptions back to his usual 80-90 range is possible. He had only two touchdowns last year, and if he can get that up to five or six, he’d earn his current No. 89 ADP. Right now, that’s a bit too pricey for my taste, but I’ve seen him drop much further in some drafts, and if he’s still available in the ninth or 10th round, he’s worth owning due to his reliability.
Despite Fitzgerald’s “name” recognition, John Brown is my favorite receiver to target in Arizona. Brown burst onto the scene last year with a 48-catch, 696-yard season. He found pay dirt five times and was targeted 102 times, which was sixth among rookie receivers. The 5’11” speedster out of little Pittsburg State in Kansas — who, by the way, has one of the best mascot names in college football — is the Cards’ receiver of the future, and his high-volume use in the offense shows that. His ADP of 109 represents one of the best values in fantasy drafts, as I expect him to lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.
Many fantasy owners want to forget the name “Michael Floyd”. Floyd was on nearly everyone’s “breakout player” list in 2014, and boy did he prove us wrong. I fell under his spell as well, drafting him in the fourth round on a handful of teams. But 2015 is a new season, and we should expect a better version of the Cards’ WR. Like Fitzgerald and Brown, Floyd will benefit by having Palmer back under center and it’s possible the hype got to him last year. With less expectations, Floyd should be a solid mid-round producer for fantasy owners.
It’s tough to say anything positive about the tight end landscape in Phoenix (or Glendale, if you wanna be specific). Bruce Arians’ offense doesn’t favor tight ends. John Carlson led the team’s tight ends in catches (33) and yards (350) last year, which ranked him 23rd and 25th in the NFL in those categories. Rob Housler, who is now with the Cleveland Browns, finished second on the team with just nine catches and 129 yards. Now that Carlson and Housler are no longer there, second-year player Troy Niklas has the most upside of any Cards’ tight end, but he underwent ankle surgery in early June. They also brought in veteran Daniel Fells to compete for the job. The tight end situation in Arizona is far too questionable to risk a draft pick on unless you’re in a 16-team league or more. I’d rather draft another team’s backup than any of these guys.
“The Red Sea”, as they are affectionately known, has been a force in the fantasy world. The group finished sixth in points last year, and fourth in 2013. They are spearheaded by top-eight IDP lineman Calais Campbell (58 tackles, 7 sacks), and have DBs Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson leading a staunch secondary. Although Campbell was the only player to finish in the top 50 by defensive position last year, the Cardinals defense as a whole is solid and is deserving of their current No. 5 ADP among D/STs.
Player to Watch
It’s John Brown for me. His ADP is way too low, he could very well be the top non-QB fantasy scorer on this Cardinals offense.
The Cardinals averaged 25.8 points and went 6-0 in the games Carson Palmer played. They averaged 15.5 points and went 5-5 in the 10 games he didn’t. Palmer’s health is the key to the Cardinals success, and their players’ fantasy values hinge on it as well.