2022 NFC West Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Chris Sanzo breaks down the AFC West from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 26.4 11th
Offensive Snaps 1126 8th
2021 Record 11-6 7th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 8.5 T-17th

 

The Arizona Cardinals are led by HC Kliff Kingsbury, so when the season ended exactly as a Kingsbury season always ends, hardly anyone outside Arizona was surprised. The Cardinals started 8-1 and 3-0 in their division with a win over the Rams and secured an early-season sweep against the 49ers. They were outscoring their opponents by an average score of 31-17. Then week eight hit. It would be the last time the trio of QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and Chase Edmonds would play together in 2021. They finished the season losing five of their last eight games, ending in second place in the NFC West with an 11-6 record. They were a one-and-done in the playoffs getting steamrolled by the Rams 34-11.

The Cardinals came to terms with a lot of their own players but lost ED Chandler Jones, WR Christian Kirk, RB Chase Edmonds, and LB Jordan Hicks. Arizona spent back-to-back first-round picks on LB Isaiah Simmons (2020) and LB Zaven Collins (2021), making Hicks’ release inevitable. Edmonds’ replacement is also on a team-friendly deal. RB Darrel Williams should have a similar role to what he had in KC and to that of Chase last season. With Christian Kirk breaking the wide receiver market in Jacksonville, the Cardinals traded for WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and drafted TE Trey McBride, the number one tight end in the class. With many of the same questions they had last season, 2022 may come down to the front office’s inability to make impactful changes.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 251.5 10th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.6 12th
Pass Attempts per Game 34.8 18th

 

The Cardinals could not get worse luck as the year went on. Seemingly every member of the Cardinals’ offense was hurt at some point for an extended period of time. This is becoming commonplace for Murray who–with Kingsbury–has started the season as a top-3 QB and by season’s end, leaves us with questions about the future. Regardless, the offseason drama did not help to ease the uncertainty around this team’s future. Talks between Murray and the Cardinals broke down early in the offseason as Kyler started removing Cardinals from his social media accounts, but despite the turmoil, they eventually reached an agreement for $230 million over 5 years.

Assuming Murray continues to grow, the Cardinal’s offense could be better than last year. Though the offensive line only got a minor upgrade, they should be able to stay around the middle of the league. It’s not the best strategy considering they just dropped bags of money at Murray’s feet, but if the line can stay healthy and get stronger with experience together, it would be quite the boon. Hollywood Brown will fill in as Murray’s number one for DeAndre Hopkins while DHop sits out with a 6 game suspension for PEDs. Brown is an effective downfield receiver, but he struggles against top corners, especially physical ones. Knowing that, it would not be the craziest of outcomes to see WR AJ Green get a small bump in targets. The offense seemed to come off the rails without Hopkins, so Brown will play a major role in the team’s success.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 122.1 10th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.4 T-3rd
Rushing Plays per Game 29.2 7th

 

The Cardinals’ run game was designed to be a balanced attack of speed, power, and efficiency. While that sounds obvious, the way they set up the attack was the most interesting. RB David Johnson has not been with the Cardinals for years but it was not until 2021 when it seemed the system would be back to where it was during his tenure, just split between two backs: Chase Edmonds and James Conner. Chase was to be the “lead” back getting the majority of the passing work with around 33% of the carries. Whatever was left over, plus most short yardage and red zone opportunities would fall to Conner. When Edmonds left with a high ankle sprain against the 49ers, it was Conner time. Rather than the work being spread out among Conner, RB Eno Benjamin, and HB Jonathan Ward, it was centralized to Conner, thus bolstering his draft stock in 2022 fantasy drafts. In the offseason, the Cardinals brought in Darrel Williams who played a similar role in the Kansas City Chiefs’ system, and drafted RB Keaontay Ingram in hopes of reaching the balance they so badly wanted last season.

 

Sleeper

 

Darrel Williams, RB

Darrel Williams is possibly the least sexy pick in all of fantasy football. However, at pick 150+, he’s a solid choice. He is more than a handcuff for James Conner. He is possibly the team’s next Chase Edmonds. RB Clyde Edwards-Harris is often seen as the Chiefs RB1, but in reality, it was reliable ol’ Williams who led them in nearly every statistical category, including 47 receptions on 55 targets. He ended the season as RB33 in PPR, logging 11.5 ppg, good for RB19 overall. In comparison, Edmonds tallied 589 rushing yards and 311 yards receiving on 43 receptions in 11 games. This means that even if he takes half of Edmond’s work, he’ll be close to equaling his involvement with the Chiefs offense. He isn’t a great pure runner and will not steal groundwork from Conner, who is a pro’s pro when it comes to picking up short yardage. However, the piece of the committee that sees the most work in the passing game will offer a comparable scoring average for a fraction of the cost. At cost, Williams may be the better play.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Trey McBride, TE

Trey McBride was a three-sport all-star in high school. His RAS score of 8.20 is good enough for 184th out of 1014 tight ends that were graded in the last 25 years. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash with 20 and 10 splits of 2.61 and 1.6 seconds, all elite tiers. This is all to say that at 6’4″, 245lbs, he is not just a football player, he is an athlete. Highly regarded as the top TE in the class, McBride should be able to secure a day 1 role with the Cardinals in line with Zach Ertz as the move TE. If Ertz were to miss any time, McBride could set himself behind Hopkins and Hollywood for targets and possibly have a chance to showcase his downfield ability.

 

Bust Candidate

 

James Conner, RB

James Conner is under contract for at least the next couple of years and that may be the biggest factor in his favor. His greatest attribute last year was his nose for the endzone. He scored an astounding 18 times. However, even though the Cardinals like to use him deep in the red zone, 18 TDs is unsustainable and should face some level of regression. Through week eight, he played alongside Chase Edmonds but received the bulk of the carries. He averaged 11.75 carries but did not eclipse 18 carries. From weeks 9 to 18 he averaged 15.4 attempts per game hitting the 20-carry mark three times.

Despite leading the way on the ground, Chase would lead in the air. Through the first eight games, Conner only had five targets to Chase’s 36. The injury would allow Conner to absorb the majority of the passing work. He increased his target/game from 0.6 to 4.9. If the combination of Williams, RB Eno Benjamin, and rookie RB Keaontay Ingram can take the passing work back, it will be nearly impossible for him to pay off his third-round price tag.

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)/Photography by Bob Kupbens, Kevin Reece, Kiyoshi Mio + Andy Lewis / Icon Sportswire

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