Analyzing The Cardinals’ Backfield With Chase Edmonds Injured

Justin Dunbar analyzes what the Cardinals backfield, mainly James Conner, offers in fantasy with Chase Edmonds sidelined with an ankle injury.

Let’s not sugarcoat this: injuries absolutely suck. Unfortunately, though, they are a part of football, and that reared its ugly head again on Sunday. After being placed on injured reserve, Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds is expected to miss the next three weeks with a high ankle sprain. What does this mean for Arizona, and more specifically, the team’s backfield and offense for fantasy purposes? We’ll answer all critical answers here.

 

What Did The Cardinals Offense Look Like Previously?

 

It’s obviously been a productive year for the Cardinals thus far, who lead the NFL with an 8-1 record. With an offense that currently ranks second in points scored/game, they’ve been able to be one of the most opportunistic offenses when it comes to fantasy success, enabling them to have two productive running backs, up to four productive receivers/tight ends, as well as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks (Kyler Murray).

I mentioned Arizona had fielded two productive fantasy running backs, which isn’t generally the case. However, both Edmonds and Conner ranked as top-22 running backs prior to Week 9, making them the only duo to do that outside of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland. That’s the beauty of playing in a productive offense, but also one that had such an even split between running backs:

 

This is the perfect example of two players having completely opposite roles of one another. Conner was mainly their short-yardage back, but in other situations, Edmonds was the clear top option. His 105.2 expected fantasy points prior to Week 9, per PFF, ranked 13th in the NFL. For context, Conner ranked just 31st in that statistic.
For the season, Edmonds is averaged 5.7 yards/attempt, compared to Conner’s 3.9. The pure explosiveness that he provides will surely be missed within Arizona’s offense, but, as evidenced by his 15% target share, so will his receiving production. His 20.2% snaps in the slot and 9.3% of snaps out wide will have to be replaced (probably not by Conner), and, overall, the team is definitely losing a versatile weapon here. In terms of fantasy, Edmonds, the RB17 prior to Week 9, was as steady of an RB2 as there was, and that will be the hope when he returns. For now, though, things change with the Cardinals offense.
James Conner’s Outlook
As you can see, Conner was clearly the “1B” to Edmonds prior to the injury. That all changes now, however.
Per Dwain McFarland of Pro Football Focus, here was Conner’s usage in Week 9:
  • Snaps: 77%
  • Carries: 55%
  • Routes: 72%
  • Targets: 19%
  • Short-Down Distance Snaps: 66%
  • Long-Down Distance Snaps: 90%
  • Inside-Five Attempts: 100%

 

That is a significantly more favorable role when it comes to fantasy production, which showed up immediately with a 40.3-point showing in full PPR formats. Mainly, Conner’s work in the receiving game took a major step forward. As opposed to essentially being a non-factor unless in short-yardage situations, he’s now in a three-down role that isn’t dependent on the situation, which is critical.

Additionally, Conner’s work in the receiving game was similar to Edmonds’. He didn’t line up out wide as Edmonds does at times, but he did still line up in the slot on 14.3% of his snaps. His 19% target share is likely unsustainable, but I’d still expect him to be somewhat involved moving forward, and that’s a major step forward from where he was previously. For what it’s worth, he’s averaging 4.6 yards/attempt over his past four games and is averaging more yards after contact (3.21) than Edmonds (3.04), especially over that four-game stretch (4.04).

With three and half seasons with a PFF grade of at least 69.4 in each of them, Conner has a strong resume of being a productive player. Now, he gets to be a bell-cow running back for one of the best offenses in the NFL. Not only will he continue to have immense touchdown upside, but he also benefits from head coach Kliff Kingsbury being unafraid to get his running backs involved. To top it off, if Arizona continues to play from leading game scripts, he’s set to benefit from more rush attempts. When you put it all together, he is a clear “RB1” moving forward while Edmonds is hurt, and has a chance to work himself into a larger role upon Edmonds’ return. Simply put, I don’t think the ceiling can contain how high his stock has risen.

 

Other Notes

 

Edmonds’ target share is unlikely to be duplicated by Conner, which could open up more opportunities for Rondale Moore. Like Edmonds, Moore’s main usage comes near the line of scrimmage (1.2-yard average depth of target), and I’d expect him to line up in the backfield more often. That could raise his outlook, but given that he’s arguably the fifth option in this offense, he remains a WR4 moving forward.

With Edmonds injured, Eno Benjamin now finds himself as the handcuff to Conner. A former 7th round pick out of Arizona State, Benjamin averaged 3.56 yards after contact/attempt on his nine chances against the 49ers on Sunday, and had an 84th percentile dominator rating in college, per Player ProfilerHe’s certainly a candidate to fill in for some of the receiving work that Edmonds got, though I doubt he comes close to challenging Conner in terms of snap share. It’s definitely worthwhile putting a claim in for him just in case something happens to Conner, considering his durability issues, or if he sees a larger role than expected, but I’m expecting Benjamin to take a clear step back to Conner.

 

Conclusion

 

The Chase Edmonds injury, as all injuries are, is significantly unfortunate. As the Cardinals hopefully get healthier with the return of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, the loss of Edmonds certainly hurts, though there are plenty of weapons to help them compensate for it.

The main significance here is the bump that James Conner now sees. All of a sudden, he’s the bell-cow running back for one of the top offenses in the NFL, as well as a team that could play well with plenty of leading game scripts. That equals touchdown upside and a high floor based on the amount of rushing volume he’ll see. If he continues to see the work in the receiving game that he saw on Sunday, the ceiling is incredibly high here, and he’s someone I’d consider as a low-end RB1 while Edmonds is injured.

Conner probably won’t replicate his 40.3 point-showing in PPR formats again, nor will Arizona keep this pace up. Or, will they? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! This team has been a pleasure to watch all season, and although we’ll be robbed of Edmonds for at least the next three weeks, they should continue to push forward with their top players returning to full health. What does that ultimately mean? That’s all left to be determined down the stretch!

 

(Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire)

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