Cardinals Year in Review
2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 19th (562)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 9th (452)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 15th (1,041)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 1st (6.3)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Carson Palmer shook off his 2014 ACL/meniscus tear to chase Cam Newton in the NFL MVP hunt for most of last season, establishing career highs in touchdown passes (35), passing yards (4,671), and passer rating (104.6) while leading the league in yards per attempt (8.7). Only Newton, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson finished with more raw fantasy points among quarterbacks. Palmer has a 19-3 record with a 46:14 TD-to-INT ratio and 286.2 passing-yard average over the last two seasons. GM Steve Keim has assembled an explosive pass-catcher corps, while Palmer's 25 sacks taken last year were his fewest in a full season since 2007. The 2015 Cardinals led the NFL in total offense and return every player who gained an offensive yard from that group. Causes for concern are Arizona's probable regression in offensive efficiency and Palmer's erratic stretch run, committing ten turnovers in the Cardinals' final four games including the playoffs. (He was dealing with a dislocated finger at the time.) Palmer will turn 37 in December. I'm considering Palmer if he lasts into the tenth round of 12-team fantasy drafts, and letting someone else take him if he goes in the single digits.
Larry Fitzgerald's 2015 was a renaissance considering he entered the season having failed to clear 1,000 receiving yards in three straight years. Fitzgerald's regular season was a bit of a tale of two halves, however. Whereas Fitzgerald averaged 9.7 targets and 92.6 yards in Arizona's initial ten games, he averaged 48.2 yards in the final six and saw his usage dwindle as versatile tailback David Johnson's role grew late in the year. Fitzgerald is a slot receiver in coach Bruce Arians' offense, and like Fitzgerald, Johnson does much of his passing-game damage in the middle of the field. Including the postseason, Johnson made seven starts as a rookie. Fitzgerald averaged 7.6 targets per game with three touchdowns when Johnson operated as Arizona's feature back, versus 11.1 targets per game with seven scores before Johnson emerged into that role.
Michael Floyd's 2015 season began ominously, dislocating three fingers on his left hand in an early-August training camp practice. Floyd missed the rest of camp/preseason and was limited early in the year, easing in behind white-hot Fitzgerald and John Brown. Floyd went on a tear from Week 6 on, topping 100 receiving yards and/or scoring a touchdown in 7-of-9 regular season games before Arizona pulled its starters at halftime of Week 17 versus Seattle. Floyd averaged eight targets per game in David Johnson's starts, compared to 7.6 for Fitz and 7.7 for Brown. Pre-season target projections for Floyd, Fitzgerald, and Brown should be similar this season. Now entering his contract year, Floyd offers the highest ceiling in Arizona's wideout group, particularly in the touchdown and yardage departments.
Even while battling frustrating hamstring injuries, John Brown took a step forward as an NFL sophomore, continuing to expand his route tree while efficiently translating his shared opportunity into a useful WR2/3 season. Despite ranking 32nd among wideouts in targets, Brown finished as the overall WR22 in non-PPR leagues and the WR26 in PPR. Barring injury to Fitz or Floyd, Brown's 2016 target projection should stay in the same range as his first two seasons (102, 101), and he seems likely to experience some statistical regression as a 5-foot-10, 179-pound speedster who will struggle to score seven-plus touchdowns on an annual basis. Expect at least a handful of Brown's 18 red-zone targets from last year to be distributed to Floyd (13). Brown is best viewed as a WR3 pick who will deliver some WR2 weeks.
Perhaps mistakenly, I pigeonholed 2015 fifth-round pick J.J. Nelson as a return specialist only coming out of UAB. He stood 5-foot-10, 156 and led the NCAA in kickoff return average (38.3) with four return scores as a college senior. Nelson shared time with Jaron Brown in Arizona's fourth receiver role last season, popping off for gains of 38, 64(TD), 34, and 22(TD) in Weeks 8-13. Likened to Emmanuel Sanders by Arians, Nelson runs 4.28 and is a prospect to monitor this fall. He could become a fantasy factor if one of Arizona's top-three receivers misses time.
Running Game Outlook
The 86th pick in last year's draft, David Johnson entered the league as a pro-ready passing-game weapon with a 93rd-percentile SPARQ score and questions about his ability to run successfully between the tackles. Johnson spent his first 11 NFL games returning kickoffs and mixing in sparingly behind Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. Following injuries to Chris (fractured tibia) and Ellington (turf toe), David took over as Arizona's feature back beginning in Week 13 and averaged 21.7 touches per game as a seven-game starter down the stretch. His 16-game pace stats in that span were 1,974 total yards with 73.1 receptions and 13.7 all-purpose TDs. Shortly after the season, Arians stated Johnson "has a chance to be one of the all-time best" running backs and "earned the right" to open his second NFL campaign as the Cardinals' "bellcow." Although Chris and Ellington will mix in sporadically, David should spend this season as the clear lead back in one of the NFL's highest-powered offenses. He is a top-two fantasy back and worthy of a first-round pick.
Longtime beat reporter Mike Jurecki recently predicted David would handle 60 percent of the Cardinals' running back touches, leaving 30 percent for Chris and 10 percent to Ellington. Based on the team's combined 2015 workload, that would translate to 282 touches for David, 141 for Chris, and 47 for Ellington. Last season, Chris' yards-per-carry average dipped from 5.11 in Arizona's initial seven games to 2.91 in his final four. Turning 31 in September, it's conceivable Chris will be more effective on a lighter workload. Chris may offer low-end flex value early in the season and would become the favorite for lead back work if something happened to David. Ellington likely needs an injury to one of the Johnsons to earn meaningful involvement.
2016 Vegas Win Total
The Cardinals' Win Total is 9.5 -- tied for sixth highest in the NFL -- and they are preseason favorites in 12 of their first 15 games. The exceptions are Week 8 at Carolina (-3.5), Week 11 at Minnesota (-1.5), and Week 16 at Seattle (-3.5). Arizona is favored by three points or fewer in five games they are currently favored to win. The schedule is more daunting this year, but the Cardinals should turn in another double-digit win campaign if Palmer stays healthy. Arians' records are 10-6, 11-5, and 13-3 through three years as Arizona's coach. The Cardinals return one of the NFL's top offenses with impressive depth at the non-quarterback skill positions. Trade acquisition OLB Chandler Jones provides a much-needed pass-rush lift, and a strong up-front nucleus on defense should help compensate for some deficiencies in the secondary.