Arizona Cardinals 2014 Fantasy Football Outlook
Arizona Cardinals 2014 Fantasy Football Outlook
The Arizona Cardinals posted 10 wins in Bruce Arians first year as head coach yet it still landed them in football purgatory – out of the playoffs and with the 27th pick in the first round. The Cardinals had the 6th best defense in 2013 and the 12th best offense which leaves them one of the top tiered teams in the league – unfortunately they play in perhaps the best division in football with Seattle, San Francisco, and the improved St. Louis Rams providing 6 tough contests a year. If the Cardinals want to play the first home Super Bowl in league history on February 1st, 2015 they’ll need top flight performances all around.
Wait, this is a fantasy football preview and few people care if a team goes 14-2, 8-8, or 0-16 as long as their players put up statistics. Arizona does have a bevy of players that expect to be key cogs in most fantasy leagues so let’s break down their potential.
It’s likely that the 2015 Cardinals QB, or at least the 2016 one, isn’t yet on the Arizona roster. Palmer has enjoyed a minor career resurgence in Bruce Arians offense but his arm is showing signs of being 34-years-old. That being said Palmer is still a top-20 quarterback, in fantasy terms at least, and ranked #17 in scoring a year ago.
In 2013 Palmer threw for 4,274 yards with 24 TD and 22 INT. As long as your fantasy scoring system doesn’t dock too many points for interceptions, Palmer remains a solid compiler. In true Bruce Arians fashion Arizona passed the ball 36 times a game last season, almost 60% of their plays.
A veteran QB who helms a Bruce Arians offense that features Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd is going to be a bona fide fantasy producer. Palmer benefits from having his second year in the system but that directly correlates to his body being another NFL season older. Look for much of the same 2013 production for another year at least.
The bad thing about a Bruce Arians offense that passes the ball 60% of the time is that it doesn’t really lend RB to be fantasy commodities. Last year’s starter Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball only 14 times a game and thought retirement at 27 would be a better option than another year of blocking and decoying. Arizona averaged 3.6 yards a carry which was 27th in the NFL and to be honest nobody on their roster should be penciled in at RB1.
The real victim in all of this isn’t Mendenhall whose NFL passion was questionable anyway, it’s 2nd year back Andre Ellington out of Clemson. In limited action his rookie season Ellington averaged 5.5 yards on 118 carries including an 80-yard TD scamper against Atlanta. In fact if you take out TD’s as an exception, Ellington was the top back in fantasy last year in points per non-touchdown touch (.65, yes it’s a confusing stat). One benefit of the pass-happy offense is that Ellington also caught 39 balls out of the backfield for a 9.75 average and only lost 1 fumble. Under a different offense or with more opportunities there’s no doubt Ellington could be a top 10 back but he’ll still likely see only 12-15 carries per game.
Thanks to catching 10 TD’s Larry Fitzgerald was able to maintain fantasy relevance in 2013. The once prominent WR has started all 16 games the past two seasons but has still failed to reach 1,000 yards in each. With 954 yards to go along with the 10 scores Fitzgerald ranked 16th among fantasy WR in 2013. His 82 catches a year ago were decent, and came on 135 targets so he’s still the go-to guy in the Cardinal passing attack.
Leg injuries and poor quarterback play derailed Fitz for a couple years but he’s looking to prove there’s something left in the tank in 2014. Entering a second year under Arians’ offense and with a veteran QB he’s comfortable with Fitzgerald could end up being a steal for many on draft day. Reports of #11′s demise may be greatly exaggerated because he’s still ranked in the top 10-12 of most preseason draft boards. It’s the ultimate conundrum when drafting the vet – too early and he might make you regret it but too late and it’s all on you.
One reason Fitzgerald might have his best production in 3 years is because of the possible emergence of Michael Floyd as the opposite wideout. The former Notre Dame product has progressed in each of his first two seasons and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in 2013 (65 catches, 1041 yards, 6 TD). Only 7 WR and 23 points separated Fitzgerald and Floyd in 2013 scoring but the likely draft difference was 4 or 5 rounds minimum. 23 targets separated Fitz and Floyd a season ago but that gap should close this year, with both WR receiving accounting for 50% of the passes at 25% each.
When Arians was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh in 2009, he faced a very similar situation as the 2014 Cardinals with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes receiving 137 and 138 targets respectably. A notable sleeper that year was rookie speedster Mike Wallace who caught 39 balls at almost 20 yards per with 6 TD. The Cardinals may have their own version of a lightning quick rookie in 5’10” John Brown out of Pittsburgh State who ran a 4.33 40 at the combine and reminds many experts of T.Y Hilton. With all the focus on Floyd and Fitzgerald Brown could be a good flex play against pass-poor defenses for a few long TD’s on the season.
The Cardinals signed John Carlson to a 2-year, $4.65 million dollar contract prior to the 2014 season but his addition shouldn’t impact your rankings for him or incumbent neither of which are TE1, TE2, or TE5 options playing in Arians offense.
Defense / Special Teams
Arizona should go high in the defense / special teams portion of your draft, especially with the addition of returner Ted Ginn to complement the already dangerous Patrick Peterson and recovering Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals allowed the least rushing yards per game in the NFL last season and free agent Antonio Cromartie should bolster the secondary.