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2023 Arizona Cardinals Fantasy Preview

Simms talks scheduling's impact on NFL betting
Drew Dinsick, Jay Croucher, Chris Simms and Ahmed Fareed discuss how scheduling impacts betting for the 2023-24 NFL season and more in a collaboration episode of Bet the Edge and Chris Simms Unbuttoned.

Kyle Dvorchak previews the fantasy outlooks of Kyler Murray, Marquise Brown, James Conner, and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals.

2022 Stats (rank)

Points per game: 20 (21st)
Total yards per game: 323.5 (22nd)
Plays per game: 67.3 (3rd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks per game: 41.8 (4th)
Dropback EPA per play: -0.08 (28th)
Rush attempts per game: 25.5 (20th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.09 (22nd)

Coaching Staff

After four years and just one winning record, the Cardinals moved on from Kliff Kingsbury following the 2022 season. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was tabbed as the team’s next head coach. Coming off the back of a historically dominant performance by his defense, Gannon also brought Eagles linebackers coach Nick Rallis to be Arizona’s next defensive coordinator. On the other side of the ball, Browns quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing was hired to be the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator. His first order of business will be reviving Kyler Murray.

The 2023 season will be a learning curve for Petzing. He has never called plays before and has just four years of experience as a positions coach in the majors. Petzing is also younger than his team’s backup quarterback. These aren’t necessarily bad things as they also point to Petzing’s meteoric rise up the coaching ranks.

The specifics of Arizona’s new offense are yet to be revealed. Both Petzing and Gannon’s former teams were among the league leaders in run rate last year. However, neither team was dogmatic in their approach. Instead, both teams adapted to the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, giving us occasional spikes in passing volume when the time was right. In turn, both Jacoby Brissett and Jalen Hurts turned in career years in most efficiency metrics. Expect to see a similar approach in Arizona. Murray may not set career-highs in passing attempts going forward, but the hope is that Petzing and the rest of the staff can help him improve his efficiency numbers.

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Passing Game

QB: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Clayton Tune
WR: Marquise Brown, Michael Wilson
WR: Rondale Moore, Zach Pascal
WR: Greg Dortch, Auden Tate
TE: Zach Ertz, Trey McBride

Of course, Petzing is going to be waiting a few months before he gets to see Murray in action. Murray tore his ACL in Week 14 last year and underwent surgery in January. An optimistic timetable would see him return after a four-week stay on the PUP list, but he could be held out significantly longer if the Cardinals are trying to play things safe in what may ultimately be a lost season. Once Murray is back in action, he will still have some work to do after his dreadful showing in 2022.

The Arizona offense became utterly stagnant in Kingsbury’s final season. Murray’s deep ball disappeared in favor of even more throws short of the sticks. Per Pro Football Focus, Murray recorded career lows in target depth (7.2 yards) and time to throw (2.61 seconds). In turn, his yards per attempt (6.1) and touchdown rate (3.6 percent) also hit rock bottom. This was in stark contrast to what Murray showed us in previous seasons. In 2021, PFF graded him as their No. 1 deep ball passer and he did that with the fourth-highest deep throw rate. Murray’s ceiling is that of an elite dual-threat who can launch dimes downfield after buying time with his legs. The Cardinals couldn’t find that version of Murray last year. Bringing him back will be Petzing’s top priority.

Among 52 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks last year, Colt McCoy ranked 27th in completion percent over expected and 46th in EPA per play. For as shallow as Murray’s target depth was, McCoy made him look like Jameis Winston by comparison. McCoy’s aDOT of 6.3 trailed only Matt Ryan for the lowest in the league. This could bode well for Rondale Moore to start the year. If things don’t go well for McCoy, fifth-round rookie Clayton Tune could see some starts before Murray returns.

Marquise Brown returns as the Cardinals clear WR1 sans DeAndre Hopkins. He was dominant without Hopkins in the lineup last year, earning a 26 percent target share and a 41 percent air yards share while Hopkins was serving a six-game suspension. In two games without Murray or Hopkins at the end of the year, his target share dipped to 20 percent but his cut of the air yards held strong at 40. Brown is a good bet to see loads of targets and air yards throughout the year. He should also get better as the fantasy playoffs approach because of Murray’s eventual return.

Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, and third-round pick Michael Wilson will compete for starting roles alongside Brown. Moore should see most of his run from the slot. He ranked 57th in yards per route run when aligned wide and 43rd in the slot last year. Though he didn’t break out in 2022, Moore did show that he is more than a glorified gadget receiver. As a rookie, his 1.3 aDOT was the lowest for a receiver with at least 50 targets in at least the last 15 years and likely ever. That jumped to a still shallow but more receiver-like 5.5 yards in 2022. He also moved outside more, showing his ability to move around the formation in a pinch. Dortch, who is a similarly undersized slot receiver, faced the same issues as Moore last year and logged a paltry 4.4 target depth. With those two competing for slot duties, Wilson could be free to command most of the routes opposite Brown on the boundary. Wilson peaked at 672 yards in 2019 but played on a handful of subpar offenses while also dealing with injuries in the final three seasons of his five-year stay at Stanford.

Zach Ertz is working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 10. He also damaged his MCL and underwent surgery to repair both in November. He averaged a measly 5.9 yards per target in 2022 and his yards per game fell to 41. The Cardinals may look to downsize his role in favor of more opportunities for Trey McBride. A second-round pick last year, McBride was a healthy scratch in Week 1 but went on to start 13 games. He struggled to earn looks in the passing game as a rookie and topped four catches just once. Assuming the two tight ends are splitting reps, neither is an appealing fantasy option.

Running Game

RB: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Corey Clement, Ty’Son Williams
OL (L-R): D.J. Humphries, Paris Johnson, Hjalte Froholdt, Will Hernandez, Kelvin Beachum

Conner returns as Arizona’s starter for 2023 and he may have even less competition for touches this time around. The team made no significant investments at backup running back and are rolling with second-year year runner Keaontay Ingram to spell Conner. Ingram only rushed 27 times for 60 yards as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games in 2022, Conner averaged 60 rushing yards per game while adding another 23 yards through the air. He was mostly a plodder on the ground, ranking 29th in rushing yards over expected and 37th in yards after contact per attempt.

The Cardinals experienced poor play and below-average injury luck along their offensive line, further plummeting the team’s ground game. They started 12 different players in the trenches and stalwart left tackle D.J. Humphries was only able to make eight appearances. Their big addition this offseason was to nab Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson with the No. 6 overall pick. With the Cardinals having strong options at both tackle spots for the upcoming season, Johnson may kick inside as a rookie. The improved line and better injury luck should help Conner make the most of his enormous role, though a likely lack of red zone trips will hurt his fantasy outlook.

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Win Total

PointsBet Over/Under: 4.5

Pick: Over

The Cardinals are a rebuilding team. Between their pick and the first-round pick they acquired from Houston, they are the betting favorites to land the first overall pick. They also jettisoned Hopkins and let a handful of key defensive free agents walk. Everything the team is doing signals that they don’t intend to win many games this year. I’ll take their word for it and give a slight lean toward the under, though 4.5 wins, the lowest total in the league, appears to be a fair line.