Cardinals Year In Review
2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 15th (568)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 24th (397)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 26th (993)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 25th (5.2)
Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Carson Palmer's ACL/meniscus recovery has progressed "ahead of schedule." He participated fully in 11-on-11s at OTAs. Palmer's pace stats for his six 2014 starts were 29.3 touchdowns and eight interceptions, averaging 271 yards per game. Palmer did benefit from facing the softest portion of Arizona's schedule (SD, WAS, OAK, PHI, DAL, STL), and it's fair to worry about Palmer's ability to rebound effectively from his second-career knee reconstruction going on age 36. The good news is Palmer's price tag minimizes his risk. He's currently being drafted as the QB17 in the middle of round 12. Palmer was productive when he played last year and his weapons look good on paper, but his health is a concern and the Bruce Arians offense isn't historically conducive to prolific stats. Whereas Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 60 touchdown passes and averaged 4,607 yards under Todd Haley the past two years, Ben had just one season over 26 TDs in five years with Arians, and just two seasons over 3,500 yards. Fellow former Arians pupil Andrew Luck's box-score game has reached new heights under Pep Hamilton. After leading off with the Bears and Saints in Weeks 1-2, Palmer also has one of the league's tougher quarterback schedules.
The target distribution between Larry Fitzgerald (103), Michael Floyd (99), and John Brown (102) was pretty even last year. Fitzgerald did miss two games and was hobbled in several more by a debilitating MCL injury. Mostly playing slot receiver at this stage of his career, 32-year-old Fitzgerald returns as the favorite to lead Arizona in targets. Although Fitzgerald has not hit 1,000 yards since 2011 while showing many symptoms of decline, a strong argument can be made that Fitz is undervalued at his current ninth-round ADP. He should push for 120 targets this season. Fitz's pace stats in Palmer's 2014 starts were 109.3 targets, 85.3 catches, 1,288 yards, and 5.3 TDs. He hit or topped 70 yards in four of Palmer's final five games.
The hype train on Michael Floyd last fall was a high-powered locomotive, and I regrettably jumped aboard. When the games happened, Floyd was utilized by Arians as a high-volatility vertical stretcher with inconsistent usage. His targets were simply difficult to catch, and there was no real effort made to feed Floyd in an efficient, voluminous manner. His pace stats in Palmer's starts were 80 targets, 45.3 catches, 693 yards, and 5.3 TDs. (Please keep in mind that "pace stats" are just a relatively small-sample data point and not a trustworthy means of 2015 projection.) Included was a four-target, two-drop goose egg in Week 8 that badly burned DFS nation. After Floyd was the subject of offseason trade rumors, I'm not betting that his role will change. Floyd is not yet 25 years old and remains a high-ceiling talent, but I think he's slightly overvalued at his current eighth-round ADP. I do like the idea of targeting Floyd in Dynasty trades, though his cost may be even lower during and after the 2015 season.
After an explosive start, John Brown hit a "wall" in the second half of his rookie season that was exacerbated by poor quarterback play. When Palmer started, Brown's pace stats were 104 targets, 53.3 catches, 840 yards, and eight touchdowns. Whereas Fitzgerald is a short-to-intermediate possession receiver and Floyd is the Cardinals' primary deep threat, Brown is utilized and can win at all areas of the field. Publicly likened by Arians to Marvin Harrison, Brown is tough for a lightweight (5'10/179) wideout and showed a special ability to "go get" downfield throws last season. Brown is one of my favorite breakout candidates. Although it will inevitably rise based on recent buzz, I think Brown is a potential steal at his 11th-round ADP. The stars could really align if Palmer rebounds well from his injury, Floyd continues to be utilized in an inefficient manner, and/or Father Time catches up with 32-year-old Fitz.
Running Game Outlook
Although Andre Ellington proved useful in PPR leagues for much of last season, his viability was entirely volume driven. Ellington averaged a whopping 22 touches per game before sports hernia, hip, and foot injuries sent him to I.R. in Week 13. His body broke down and he was extremely inefficient on the massive workload, experiencing sharp dips in his yards-per-carry (3.28) and yards-per-reception (8.59) averages. Ellington proponents have chalked up his diminished effectiveness to the injuries, but it's more likely that Ellington simply isn't a high-volume back. He is best utilized as a committee member, and the Cardinals' selection of David Johnson suggests they agree with that notion. Not a touchdown scorer and now likely to lose a ton of volume, Ellington appears overvalued at his current fourth-round ADP.
I knew little about David Johnson before the Combine, so I got excited about him when he shredded it. At 6-foot-1, 224, Johnson ran 4.5-flat with a 10-foot-7 broad jump and 41 1/2-inch vertical. That excitement was reduced to mild intrigue when I watched Johnson's game tape. Although Johnson is a skilled pass catcher, he exhibited a distinct aversion to contact inside the tackles, regularly bracing himself for hits rather than finishing runs. His interior running is barely NFL caliber. The Cardinals are aware of Johnson's strengths and limitations, comparing him to Ellington from a skill-set standpoint. Based on his superior size, I think Johnson could grow into a Larry Centers type. Ellington's injuries and ineffectiveness make Johnson an interesting fantasy commodity. Johnson is a legitimate playmaker in the passing game and his ADP is at the 10th-/11th-round turn. There is also a possibility the Cardinals use Johnson at the goal line, where they have a tendency to pull smaller Ellington off the field.
2015 Vegas Win Total
The Cardinals are projected at 8.5 wins after going 11-5 last season. Admittedly, this is a team I understimated last year -- I would have bet the house that they wouldn't win double digits -- so take my forecast with a grain of salt. But I would bet the under on 8.5. Losing Todd Bowles, Antonio Cromartie, and run-plugging NT Dan Williams were massive blows on defense, and on offense the Cardinals' fate will be determined by a quarterback coming off his second major knee injury while going on age 36. They also look to lack a sustaining run game to fall back on if the passing game sputters, and are missing an outside pass rush. As detailed by Five Thirty Eight, this is a team that overachieved its way to last year's 11 wins on the basis of lucky factors like a high fumble-recovery rate, going 5-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer, and fourth-quarter "clutchness," all of which are likely to regress.