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Friday, July 19, 2013

Team Talk: Arizona Cardinals

I'm finding myself more and more fascinated by the Arizona Cardinals this year.  It seems like every position on the team with fantasy relevance has a legitimate case as a potential draft day bargain.

Let me show you what I mean:

Carson Palmer - Is he all the way back to being a legit NFL stud quarterback?  What sort of impact will Larry Fitzgerald have on his fantasy numbers?  Even on a terrible Raiders team last year, Palmer achieved a quarterback rating near his career average.  He was only 113 yards shy of his career best season (crazy, right?) and threw a respectable 22 TD's.  He did have some turnover issues with 14 picks and five fumbles, but there is undeniable upside with the weapons he now has around him.

Larry Fitzgerald - Which leads us to Fitz.  Last year he had the lowest yards per reception of his career and also the fewest receptions per target of his career.  However, if you think for a second that it has anything to do with Fitzgerald you're crazy.  He was dealing with a corps of quarterbacks with inaccurate, rag arms.  The inaccuracy led to a lower number of targets being completed, and the weak arms led to fewer yards when the pass was completed.  He won't have to worry about that anymore.  It feels like he's been around forever, but the guy is still only 29 years old.  In my opinion you'll see around 90 receptions for 1,224 yards and eight touchdowns... with upside for more.  The best thing about Fitzgerald is that his floor is very high, but he also has a ceiling that is as high as just about any wide receiver in football.  His value is depressed due to the historically poor Cardinal quarterback play of 2012, so there should be some value there.

Rashard Mendenhall - What do you do with this guy?  He's still just 26 years old, he's got the pedigree of a first round draft pick, he has had success in the NFL, and he's the unquestioned starting running back in Arizona.  What's more, he's playing behind an improved offensive line that grabbed Jonathan Cooper (G) in the 1st round of the draft.  That all sounds great, right?  The problem of course, was that he was injured for virtually the entire 2012 season.  He only had 51 carries last year, and didn't really do anything with them when he did get the rock.  He's supposed to be healthy now, and we'll believe it when we see it.  However if he is, I believe he'll produce stats that are in line with his 2009 season which would look something like 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns.  For where he's going in drafts, those are strong numbers that represent value.

Rob Housler - Talk about intriguing.  Do you remember what Carson Palmer did for Brandon Myers last year?  Do you remember what Myers had done in his entire career before the breakout?  Well, suffice it to say that Palmer can make a star out of a tight end.  And, in my opinion, he's got more to work with in Housler.  What would you say if this guy got you 70 receptions for 775 yards and six touchdowns?  If he can do that he represents a viable starter (albeit a low-end one) at tight end at the low cost of your last round draft pick.

The Defense - Now it gets interesting.  In 2012 the Cardinals defense had the tell-tale sign of a decent fantasy DST that was a poor one in real life.  That being a great record against the pass and a bad showing versus the rush.  So to break that down, opposing teams could run on them and grind down the clock without having to put the ball in the air too often.  It was easy to beat the Cards last year.  They scored 250 points and allowed 357, and that ain't good.  You didn't even have to try to run up the score on them because the offense was so bad.  This year, that probably changes with an improved offense.  But listen, I think the defense is better too... and I actually like the fact that opposing offenses will have to open things up against Arizona.  They may or may not allow more points, but if the other team is throwing more then there are more opportunities for the sacks and interceptions that fuel a fantasy DST.  This unit added Kevin Minter (LB) in the 2nd round of the draft, Tyrann Mathieu (SS) in the 3rd, and Alex Okafor (DE) in the 4th.  All of those guys were highly regarded players that slipped for one reason or another.  The point is that they added significant talent through the draft.  They also added useful pieces like Antoine Cason (CB) to a defense that already had a dynamic leader in Patrick Peterson (CB).  In the final analysis, I believe this is an opportunistic unit that will still give up points but will score enough fantasy points to be a low-end starter most weeks.

Michael Floyd - Floyd is a real wild card.  They took him in the first round of the draft just last year so they are invested in his success.  He might have been better than you think in his rookie year.  He caught more than half of his targets and averaged 12.3 yards per reception.  Both of those numbers were better than Fitzgerald in 2012.  Now he's got a year of experience under his belt and a vastly superior quarterback in Palmer.  Plus, there's an improved offensive line, a potentially better running game, and Fitz will be dealing with double teams on the other side of the field.  All of that points to opportunity for the highly touted 2nd year wideout.  Again, for where he is going in drafts you have to think there is big upside.  Would it shock you if he got 75 balls for 938 yards and five touchdowns?  He's a hard one to predict, but those numbers wouldn't shock me.  I don't really see anyone other than Andre Roberts who could threaten to take his WR2 targets from him, either.  There should be plenty of opportunity for Floyd in 2013.

Jay Feely - Okay, he's a kicker and he's old so there isn't a whole lot to say.  One statistic that jumps out to me is that he connected on 89.3% of his field goal attempts last year.  That is an elite number.  If the offense is better this year as we predict, he ought to improve on an already solid number of 100 points in 2012.  You always like to see kickers in a dome too, plus the Cards don't have their bye until week nine.  So, you could take Feely in your draft and forget about the kicker slot for eight weeks.  Sounds good to me.