2018 Fantasy Team Preview: Arizona Cardinals

Photo by Kevin French/Icon Sportswire

In a season of headlines for the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals have gone fairly unnoticed. This follows a campaign where star running back David Johnson played his only game Week 1, and the team’s biggest producer was a thirty-four-year-old who stars in commercials for an online university. Kidding aside, this Arizona team has undertaken a fairly major change in form despite a general lack of outstanding personnel changes. It starts from the top with former Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator Steve Wilks coming on as head coach, bringing former Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy to run the offense. General changes on the outside both offensively and defensively should complement strong trench play, although the team already lost starting center A.Q. Shipley for the season. In turn, rookie Mason Cole is in line for the starting position. Fantasy relevant options are few on this roster in redraft leagues, but dynasty owners may find a couple of diamonds in the rough.


Offseason Additions

Player Position Expectation Former Team
Sam Bradford Quarterback Starter Minnesota Vikings
Brice Butler Wide Receiver Starter Dallas Cowboys
Justin Pugh Guard Starter New York Giants
Andre Smith Right Tackle Starter Cincinnati Bengals

Offseason Losses

Player Position New Team
John Brown Wide Receiver Baltimore Ravens
Jaron Brown Wide Receiver Seattle Seahawks
Tyrann Mathieu Free Safety Houston Texans
Josh Mauro Defensive End New York Giants
Justin Bethel Cornerback Atlanta Falcons

2018 Draft Results

Round Pick Player Position School
1 10 Josh Rosen Quarterback UCLA
2 47 Christian Kirk Wide Receiver Texas A&M
3 97 Mason Cole Center Michigan
4 134 Chase Edmonds Running Back Fordham
6 182 Chris Campbell Cornerback Penn State
7 254 Korey Cunningham Offensive Tackle Cincinnati

Quarterbacks

(QB3) Sam Bradford

In what has become a familiar sight to football fans, Sam Bradford enters the season with questions surrounding the health of his knee. Our last (true) image of him was a stellar Week 1 performance where he finished 27 of 32 for 346 yards and a trio of touchdowns. The strong debut had many believing in the veteran who set the NFL record for completion percentage during the 2016 season, but alas we are left with uncertainty and only optimistic hope going into this year.

Many just assume Bradford will fall to yet another injury and see his season derailed by Week 8. There are a few instances in fantasy where lowering a player’s value due to being injury prone makes sense, this is not one of those instances. Bradford is not being drafted high enough to provide real risk to rosters, and all reports of him have been glowing thus far. Even competitor Josh Rosen is heralding the veteran for his remarkable accuracy and instinctive control of the offense. Some leagues may find someone overzealous on Bradford’s potential, but in most cases, interested owners can target him on waivers as a spot play to back-up their number one option.

Josh Rosen

There may be mixed opinions on Josh Rosen’s attitude, but no one doubts his ability on the field. When Rosen slid to number ten in the draft, Arizona parted ways with three picks in order to nab their (hopeful) future franchise quarterback. He finished his 2017 season at UCLA with over 3700 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. The highlight of the Bruins season was arguably their historic comeback Week One against now teammate Christian Kirk. Rosen’s 491 yard, 4 touchdown performance is the prime example of why so many feel he can take over the reigns. Sam Bradford’s $20 million contract and training camp success mean the veteran is likely to be under center for the beginning of the season, but any struggles will lead to both fans and some players looking towards the future.


Running Backs

(RB1) David Johnson

There may be no more influential player from the last two years than David Johnson. His 2016 season amounted to more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage, 80 receptions, and a staggering 20 touchdowns. The result was Johnson’s name being called at the top of most drafts in 2017, a season where he finished with just 11 rushes due to a dislocated wrist that shut him down for the season mid-way through Week 1. There has been a changing at the helm with the hiring of Wilks and McCoy. Ideally, the offense will not be as reliant on a single back to shoulder the load, but Johnson should still command a heavy amount of usage. The team has attempted to add more weapons to the outside, hopefully opening up both running lanes and underneath routes for the star back.

Elijhaa Penny

Former undrafted running back Elijhaa Penny enters his second true season as a professional. The former Idaho Vandal bounced around the depth chart last season with the team deferring to free agent veterans instead of the younger option. Penny’s career started off slow with a simple one-yard rush, but he leveled out as a serviceable backup option. His 31 carries on the year are hardly enough to warrant a larger role, but the 4.0 YPC and pair of touchdowns appear to have elevated him to a spot behind David Johnson. Penny is unlikely to be a fantasy relevant name this year unless Johnson against goes down with an injury. Extraordinarily large leagues could see him possibly emerge as a goal line back (2 touchdowns on 5 carries inside the 10 last season), but even that is just wishful thinking.

Chase Edmonds

Chase Edmonds emerged as a relatively unheard of selection (to the masses) in the fourth round this past spring. The former Fordham standout had a shortened senior season, making him an even more unseen prospect to most fantasy owners. Edmonds ran for 5862 yards on 6.0 YPC through 44 games at the FCS level. Add on 67 rushing touchdowns, 86 receptions, and 905 more yards through the air and it makes sense why he is already taking reps with the first and second team units. Edmonds’ only real value this season comes in larger dynasty drafts or as a result of injuries. He will be battling with Penny for a secondary position on the depth chart but lends little value in standard leagues.


Wide Receivers

(WR2) Larry Fitzgerald

Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald will look to extend his second prime as he enters his 15th season. Arizona’s number one option from the past decade and a half is coming off a season where he recorded 109 receptions, 1156 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Those numbers ranked second, eighth, and twenty-sixth respectively. A versatile piece in the offense, Fitzgerald will continue to take on that role in McCoy’s new offense. Similar to the likes of Jason Witten at the end of his career, Fitzgerald is never going to beat corners with blistering speed. His technique and strong hands are enough to guarantee weekly results, and consistent looks in the red zone make him a valuable option in standard, though he ranks even higher in PPR leagues. A comfortable number two receiver in most leagues, the only concern is that Father Time remains undefeated.

Chad Williams

Second-year receiver Chad Williams is one of the greater unknowns in this offense, even more so than some of the present rookies. Williams was selected in the third round of last year’s draft. Promising measurables (6’1″, 204 lbs, 4.43 forty) and a consistent presence on the field at the collegiate level warranted mid-round attention. However, the backlog at receiver resulted in Williams appearing in just six games with a grand total of seven targets. Looking at his rookie stats provide little insight, but staring at stats from Division I-AA ball can also be misleading.

Williams demonstrated the necessary ball skills at Grambling State, and his physical ability did shine through on one occasion against professional talent. He began the offseason slated to be the number two wideout, but has since been replaced by Brice Butler. That said, there are many who believe Williams is the guy, making preseason production and camp reps extremely important for the second year guy. An unknown with questionable opportunity, for now, Williams does not warrant attention in the draft, but his name may pop up a few times between now and October.

Christian Kirk

Christian Kirk is listed above Brice Butler and J.J. Nelson in this list simply because I fell in love with him at Texas A&M. Born in Scottsdale, Arizona, he’s already a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and deserves to be the number one receiver taken…please? In reality, Kirk is more of a dynasty option than a name for redraft leagues. He comes into an offense with a veteran leader, inconsistent talent elsewhere at receiver, and a star at running back. The opportunity is there, but Kirk will need to deliver on the field before he can be guaranteed targets and (subsequently) receptions.

Kirk played with six different quarterbacks in three seasons with the Aggies, offering exceptional production regardless. He averaged 78 receptions, 952 yards, and almost 9 touchdowns a year at College Station. Playing time early in his career may come as a return man where he proved capable at the collegiate level (7 career return touchdowns). That skill translates to impressive ability after the catch, but the concern remains as to whether or not he will have many opportunities for catches this season. My completely biased outlook would love to see him grow into a 100 reception, 8 touchdown receiver at the pro level; a very achievable task for someone with his ability, but that level of production remains a couple years away.

Brice Butler

Butler deserved to be discussed earlier on this list given that he was named a starter on the team’s first depth chart, but I also started this before the depth chart was released. The former seventh-round pick has been remarkably uninteresting for most fantasy owners throughout his career. His career high in receptions (21) came back in 2014, but he tied a personal record for touchdowns (3) and set his mark for yards (317) on just two dozen targets last year with Dallas.  Butler “produced” early in the year for Dallas, but never tallied more than two receptions in a single game. Now that he has an accurate quarterback in Sam Bradford, there is new opportunity for him as the second receiver. If he can hold onto this position, Butler has the chance of becoming a fantasy relevant player. Even so, Arizona has been very star-centric with their offense in recent years, and while the coaching staff has changed, much of the on-field personnel remains the same.

J.J. Nelson

J.J. Nelson has a career catch percentage of 45.6%. The 47.5% mark he set last year was a career high. If you’d like to move onto tight ends, you won’t miss much. Nelson offered little value to the Cardinals outside of the first two weeks last season. He totaled 10 receptions, 163 yards, and 2 scores in those games. Accounting for nearly two-fifths of fantasy production during early September does not make one a viable option in any league. Nelson’s greatest asset will likely have to be availability in hopes that receivers are injured ahead of him this season. His speed makes him a legitimate deep threat down the field, but being fourth on the depth chart (ahead of a rookie), does not bode well for actual value.


Tight Ends

Jermaine Gresham

Arizona’s offense is clear cut between young talent and experienced veterans, and ninth-year tight end Jermaine Gresham is most certainly part of the latter group. Slated as one of the top two ends on the roster, Gresham can again expect to find regular time on the field, though his 45 targets from last season may dip. Realistically, his only contributions in fantasy will come in the form of touchdowns. In a strange sequence of events last season, Gresham caught 60% of his targets inside the 10, but for no touchdowns. On two receptions elsewhere in the red zone, he did find the end zone. Only a desperation play in deep leagues, Gresham should not be improving his whopping 0.3% ownership rating from last year.

Ricky Seals-Jones

Calling Ricky Seals-Jones the “exciting” tight end prospect in Arizona is a stretch. The former wideout turned tight end has the ball skills and size to compete, but limited playing time means owners have a small sample size to scout. Seals-Jones appeared in 10 games last season, was targeted in eight of them, and caught passes in only five. His 42.9% catch rate doesn’t exactly instill faith either. If I’m losing you, take a look at what he can do:

The tight end position is not a strength in Arizona. Everyone knows that and there is little (okay, there’s no) reason to draft either Gresham or Seals-Jones. Both will be available on the waiver wire should bye weeks cripple a roster. If Seals-Jones does end up performing, I site the above gif as my claim to the fact that he may have panned out. Mike McCoy has found success from his tight ends in the past, offering opportunity for the desperate. Nevertheless, this is my warning, don’t waste a pick on Seals-Jones. Wait and see.


Defense

There were murmurs this spring about whether or not Arizona would make the transition from a 3-4 defensive to the 4-3 front head coach Steve Wilks found success with in Carolina. In reality, the team will likely run both sets as the only noticeable difference will be star linebacker Chandler Jones‘ positioning. The front seven is expected to return only three starters other than Jones: DT Corey Peters, LB Haason Reddick, and LB Deone Bucannon. Run defense was a success in 2017 with opponents averaging just 3.5 yards per rush, good for third-best in the league. In addition, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche continues to be talked up during camp, though we’ve heard that before.

On the backside of the defense, Patrick Peterson continues to lead a squad that found success in yardage, but not points. Alongside Peterson returns strong safety Budda Baker, but that’s it. Tyrann Mathieu is off to Houston and Antoine Bethea is expected to start at free safety, though Tre Boston signed in late July. Brandon Williams ended 2017 as the second starting cornerback, but he’s since been demoted to fifth on the depth chart as Jamar Taylor and Chris Campbell begin to excite fans. Arizona spent just a sixth-round selection on Campbell, but he’s shown a lot of promise early, and his long frame will play at the NFL level.

Arizona is a defense that has the talent to deliver on at least a streaming basis, but their schedule offers a slate of teams that are hard to read at this juncture. Denver, Minnesota, Washington, and Kansas City all have different quarterbacks. Atlanta, Green Bay, Los Angeles (Rams), and Detroit are expected to play well. Then there are teams like Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland that have potential to improve drastically. Certainly, not a team to draft, the Cardinals may at least emerge as a streaming option.


Kicker

Phil Dawson

Veteran Phil Dawson was nothing more than a streaming option at kicker last season. The now 43-year-old converted on just 80.0% of his kick, his lowest mark since 2002. Had Dawson been missing from 50 yards and beyond, the struggles could be overlooked. However, he made 10 of 14 kicks between 30-39 yards, a 71.4% mark that left zero confidence with owners. He salvaged value as a streaming option with a minimum four field goals made five different times in 2017. Moving into 2018, Dawson should not be an option until at least Week 4, and that’s with the dangerous assumption that the Seattle defense takes a step backward. With Washington, Los Angeles (Rams), and Chicago to open the year, the veteran should go unrostered into October.

Michael Collins

Michael is an analytics guru starting with football and extending to all major sports. Defensive aficionado despite being raised by the offensive success of the Indianapolis Colts.

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