Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Cardinals Fantasy Preview

Friday, June 8, 2018


Cardinals 2014-2017 Offensive Profile

2014-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 15th, 19th, 3rd, 5th
2014-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 24th, 9th, 21st, 20th
2014-2017 Play Volume Rank: 26th, 15th, 2nd, 5th
2014-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 25th, 1st, 19th, 30th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 2,589 (3rd)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 356 (2nd)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: David Johnson
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: Christian Kirk
WR: Brice Butler
TE: Ricky Seals-Jones
LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: A.Q. Shipley
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Andre Smith

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Passing Game Outlook

Sam Bradford is the early favorite to open 2018 as Arizona’s starter over Josh Rosen after signing a two-year, $40 million deal with $15 million in first-year guarantees. Forever bereft of durability, Bradford lit up the Saints for 346 yards and three touchdowns last Week 1, only to suffer what amounted to a year-ending left knee injury during the game. Bradford previously tore his left ACL twice, then had the same knee scoped last November. An accurate but statuesque checkdown machine when healthy, “Sammy Sleeves” ranked 30th of 35 qualified quarterbacks in percentage of passes attempted 20-plus yards downfield as the Eagles’ 2015 starter (10.3%), and 34th of 34 with the Vikings in 2016 (8.5%). In fantasy, Bradford has finished above QB20 once in his eight-year career. On the Cardinals, Bradford seems like a particularly poor bet to stay healthy behind one of the league’s five-worst offensive lines.

No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen figures to take over at some point before Arizona’s Week 9 bye, likely playing a game-manager role in an offense new coach Steve Wilks promises will be run first. At 6’4/226, Rosen is a classic drop-back passer who ran a pro-style offense at UCLA and has drawn stylistic comparisons to Eli Manning and Trent Green. Ultimately, this is a fantasy situation to avoid beyond two-quarterback leagues.

Larry Fitzgerald enters his age-35 season with 100-plus catches in three straight years and is again set up to hog targets in a thin Cardinals pass-catcher corps. Despite advanced age, Fitzgerald’s average yards of separation improved from 2.4 in 2016 to 2.6 in 2017, and Fitz has finished top 12 in red-zone targets in consecutive years. Bradford has an affinity for slot receivers; Danny Amendola (81% slot) led Bradford’s 2012 Rams in targets, Jordan Matthews (93% slot) was Bradford’s go-to guy on the 2015 Eagles, and Stefon Diggs (63% slot) averaged a team-high 8.6 targets per game for Bradford’s 2016 Vikings. Fitzgerald ran 62% of his routes in the slot last year. Even in non-PPR leagues, Fitz has been a top-20 wideout in four of the last five years. He'll be undervalued in drafts again.

The Cardinals selected Christian Kirk 47th overall after he dominated the SEC at ages 19-21 for 229 catches and seven return touchdowns (6 PR, 1 KR) in three seasons. The football analytics community has shown collegiate return-game dominance to be a positive indicator for skill-position players like Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, and Cooper Kupp. Although Kirk managed below-par 31st-percentile SPARQ athleticism before the draft, he blazed 4.45 at the Combine and profiles as a cross between Kupp and Nelson Agholor in the slot. Kirk will likely begin his career running primarily outside routes before Fitzgerald retires after this season. As Arizona is missing the NFL’s third-most Air Yards from last year’s roster, Kirk fell into an abundance of opportunity with a good chance to be the Cardinals’ immediate No. 3 pass option behind Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Kirk is a last-round fantasy sleeper.

The Cardinals’ run-first plan and probable below-average passing game suggest third wideout duties will hold limited fantasy relevance, but the job will come down to Brice Butler and J.J. Nelson and 2017 third-round pick Chad Williams, who earned just 98 rookie-year snaps. I penciled in Butler as the favorite after he signed a two-year deal with the team three weeks into free agency. Butler (4.37) and Nelson (4.28) are both long-speed lid poppers who can keep defenses honest on clear-out routes for Fitzgerald, Kirk, and Johnson underneath and in the middle of the field, but figure to struggle for volume, especially for however long checkdown-king Bradford is healthy enough to play.

Ricky Seals-Jones converted from Texas A&M wideout to Cardinals tight end as an undrafted rookie, parlaying just 70 routes run into a 12/201/3 receiving line, averaging 16.8 yards per catch, and flashing seam-stretching capability with 41% of his targets coming in the slot. As Jermaine Gresham tore his Achilles’ in Week 17 and figures to begin 2018 on reserve/PUP, Seals-Jones is set up for a big role as an interior playmaker on a team quarterbacked by a passer who prefers targeting the middle of the field. Albeit far from a sure thing – he is a second-year position conversion with one career start and 28 targets -- Seals-Jones is an intriguing TE2 toward the end of drafts.

Running Game Outlook

David Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and touchdowns (20) in 2016, only to suffer a year-ending dislocated wrist last Week 1. Johnson returns with “fresh legs” and contract-year narratives as the clear-cut focal point of Arizona’s offense. A pass-first team under Bruce Arians, defensive-minded Wilks promises a philosophical shift. “We’re going to run the football,” Wilks vowed at his introductory presser. “You have to run the ball in the National Football League.” Wilks’ comments make him sound like a caveman, but his intentions are clear; Johnson will be fed the rock early and often. Johnson's environment is less than ideal, but he can compensate with sheer workload and all-purpose talent. I’m drafting D.J. as the overall RB3 behind Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell.

The Cardinals have penciled in Chase Edmonds as Johnson’s primary backup after drafting him in the fourth round out of Fordham, where Edmonds set the Patriot League’s all-time rushing record (5,862), averaging 6.2 yards per carry with 86 catches and 74 all-purpose TDs. Edmonds is not particularly big (5’9/205) or fast (4.55), but he is a darting short-area quickness runner with plus versatility, and would be positioned for fantasy relevance if Johnson got hurt again. Rotoworld draft guru Josh Norris likened Edmonds to Matt Forte, and my comparison was Devonta Freeman. Short-yardage specialist Elijhaa Penny and scatbacks T.J. Logan and D.J. Foster will be Edmonds’ competition for No. 2 back work.

2018 Vegas Win Total

Arizona's Win Total opened at 5.5 (-130), tied with the Browns for lowest in football. Last year's Cardinals outkicked their win expectation by 2.28 games -- second most in the league behind Buffalo -- setting up this year's club for W-L regression to the mean. The Cardinals are the weakest team in an immensely talented NFC West, and their out-of-division schedule consists of a strong NFC North, dangerous AFC West, Washington (home), and Atlanta (away). Warren Sharp rated Arizona’s schedule the toughest in football. They have major quarterback question marks, a bottom-five offensive line, and gaping holes in the secondary. The Cards also changed schemes on both sides of the ball. Although Josh Rosen provides long-term hope, I don’t expect short-term success. And because the odds-based upside is higher on Arizona winning fewer than 5.5 games, that’s where I’m placing my bet.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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