|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, September 30, 2015|
Arizona has won 21 of 32 regular-season games with Bruce Arians has its head coach. The Cardinals made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2009. In a way, their 2014 success was kind of a fluke. Their offense ranked 24th in points (310) and yards per game (319.8). The Cardinals were better in both areas in 2013 (16th in points scored, 12th in total yards gained per game). They allowed the fifth-fewest points (299), which was impressive, but they allowed the ninth-most yards per game (368.2). In 2013, Arizona finished sixth in the league in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed.
After 20 years of NFL coaching experience, Arians was finally rewarded with a permanent head coaching job in 2013. He has already won NFL Coach of the Year twice (2012 and 2014). In 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts, he took over for Chuck Pagano, who was battling leukemia. Bruce has a 30-14 head coaching record. Harold Goodwin returns for his third season as Arizona's offensive coordinator. Goodwin has 10 years of NFL coaching experience. James Bettcher takes over as the defensive coordinator after spending the previous two seasons as the Cardinals' outside linebackers coach. In the history of the NFL, Arizona has the second-lowest winning percentage (.420). Over their 95 year history, the Cardinals have made the playoffs only 10 times and lost their only Super Bowl appearance.
The Cardinals lost defensive end Darnell Dockett, linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, linebacker Sam Acho and defensive tackle Dan Williams from their defense. Dockett was released the 34-year-old Dockett after he missed the entire 2014 season due to a torn ACL. He combined for just six sacks in 2012 and 2013. Foote took a job on the Cardinals' coaching staff. The 35-year-old his career. He was a poor player in all areas last season. His loss is addition by subtraction. Cromartie has been a very good cover corner in his career, but he was only league average in 2014 (54 catches on 91 attempts for 759 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions). His failure was largely due to 319 yards allowed after the catch. Kelly is a low-value player with no real upside rushing the QB (one sack last season). Williams was the biggest loss on defense. He was a solid run defender in 2014.
DE Cory Redding was added for depth on the defensive line. He played well in 2014, racking up five sacks, 13 QB hits and 26 QB hurries. Redding is nearing the end of his career, but he did have a bounce in his step last year. LB Sean Weatherspoon missed the whole 2014 season with a ruptured Achilles. The former first-round pick signed a "prove it" deal with Cardinals after some productive seasons in Atlanta. LB LaMarr Woodley missed ten games last year while with the Oakland Raiders due to a torn biceps muscle. Woodley should add value to the pass rush and be league average in run support after a down year with the Raiders. CB Alfonzo Dennard struggled with shoulder and hamstring injuries in 2014 with the New England Patriots. Dennard did a reasonable job in pass coverage in 2012 (36 catches for 516 yards and five TDs and three INTs on 72 pass attempts).
Arizona also cut starting center Lyle Sendlein, who was a huge liability in the run game while allowing one sack, 11 QB hits and 19 QB hurries. Guard Paul Fanaika signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He also struggled in run blocking and had risk as a pass protector (two sacks, seven QB hits and 30 QB hurries). Arizona added guard Mike Iupati and center A.Q. Shipley. Iupati, a 2010 first-rounder, is best in run blocking. However, his game doesn't help much in pass blocking. He allowed seven sacks in 2014. Shipley has worked as a backup player in his career with short-term value when asked to start. He's been of value in the run game in two of the last three years and didn't allow a sack in five starts with the Colts last season.
In the first round, the Cardinals selected offensive tackle D.J. Humphries at No. 24 overall. He's an athletic, attacking run blocker, but his pass protection technique needs improvement.
With three of ies next four picks, Arizona tried to beef up the defensive line – DE Markus Golden, DT Rodney Gunter and DE Shaquille Riddick. Golden earns extra credit for his hard work and plus motor, but he doesn't have enough quickness to give him an edge at the snap. He must use his power to get after the quarterback. He'll clog up running lanes but limited range. Gunter is an upside prospect who went to a small school. He has upside against the run and the pass. He possesses enough versatility to play inside or at end. Rodney will need some time to develop. Riddick is another hard worker with upside as an attacking pass rusher, but he needs more bulk and strength in order to defeat blockers at the line of scrimmage.
The Cardinals found their missing power at the running back position with the addition of David Johnson in the third round. He has excellent size (6 feet 1, 224 pounds) with power, strength (25 reps in the bench press at the combine), speed (4.50 40-yard dash), acceleration and athletic ability. Even with plus strength and power, Johnson doesn't play with an edge and his pass blocking needs work. David has soft hands, which adds to his value on passing downs. He needs to be quicker to the line of scrimmage.
Arizona added wide receiver J.J. Nelson and tight end Gerald Christian in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. Nelson is a burner (4.28 40) who lacks size (5 feet 10, 156 pounds). His need for bulk and strength limits his upside as defenders will beat him up if they get a hand on him. J.J. looks like an electric returner, but he needs to prove he can hold onto the ball in the heat of the battle. Christian is an undersized TE with solid strength and pass-catching skills. His route running needs to improve, and his blocking skills won't earn him any playing time on early downs.
Arizona Cardinals OT D.J. Humphries
The Cardinals averaged a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry last year. They recorded the second-fewest rushing yards per game (81.8) and the second-fewest rushing scores (six). Arizona allowed 28 sacks. They finished 14th in passing yards (3,808) with 21 TDs and 12 INTs.
LT Jared Veldheer is coming his best NFL season as a pass protector (one sack, four QB hits and 22 QB hurries). He was above average as a run blocker. Jared was selected in the third round in 2010 and has two other seasons of value on his resume.
Through five seasons, left guard Mike Iupati has yet to deliver a plus season in pass blocking. Iupati is a plus run blocker, which is very important to this offense. Hopefully, the change of scenery will lead to Mike having his best year in pass protection.
A.Q. Shipley may not be ready to be a full-time starter, but he looks like the favorite to win the starting center job. Shipley has 14 starts over the last two seasons with the Colts at center and left guard, and he allowed just one sack during that time.
Right guard Jonathan Cooper has yet to deliver on his upside after being selected seventh overall in 2013. Last year, he played in only 10 games with two starts. He missed his entire rookie season due to a broken leg and battled a turf toe issue early last season. Cooper has a good pedigree, but he has a lot to prove on the field.
D.J. Humphries is expected to start at right tackle as a rookie. He should help in the run game, although there are some questions about his pass protection abilities.
This line has strength on the left side and two first-round picks on the right side. The center position potentially has some risk. Out of the gate, this line may struggle in pass blocking until the pieces mesh. I expect the run blocking to be improved. Overall, Arizona's line may play better than most expect.
The above chart shows the Cardinals' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
On the surface, the Cardinals have a tough run schedule with games against the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions and a pair versus the Seattle Seahawks. But the Lions won't be as strong with Ndamukong Suh now on the Miami Dolphins. Arizona's ground game has two favorable matchups -- the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Besides having to face the Seahawks twice, the Cardinals' passing game will have three below-average matchups -- the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers (twice). Their two most favorable games will come against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.
Running backs caught 23.8 percent of Arizona's completions. That percentage dropped to 15.6 for the tight ends. The wide receivers caught 194 passes for 2,740 yards and 15 touchdowns.
QB Carson Palmer - Bye Week Fill-in
UPDATE (9/30): Carson Palmer is absolutely on fire to start the 2015 season. Through three games, he has put up 803 passing yards, nine TDs and two INTs. Although Arizona is playing very well, they also haven't really played a tough opponent yet. Their opponents' combined record is 1-8. Palmer is playing like a QB1 and should be treated as such in the coming weeks. We won't know how good Palmer and the Cardinals are until they play a well-rounded team with a solid defense.
Palmer has stabilized Arizona's QB position over the past two years. He has a 16-6 record in the desert. Last year, he won all six of his starts. After playing well in Week 1 (304 yards and two touchdowns), he missed three games due to a nerve issue in his throwing arm. When he returned to the lineup in Week 6, Carson threw at least two TDs in four straight games and had one 300-yard outing. His season ended in Week 10 because of a torn ACL in his left knee. There hasn't been any negative news regarding his recovery, and Palmer is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Carson has four 4,000-yard seasons on his resume with only one year with more than 30 TDs. The Cardinals are built to play solid defense and deploy a ball-control offense. Palmer has some talent at the wide receiver position, and running back Andre Ellington is a good pass catcher as well. With growth from the offensive line, Carson has a chance to set a career high in passing yards (4,274). At age 35 and with a bum knee, there isn't a lot of room for error. I see more steadiness than explosive upside. Palmer should be drafted as a backup Fantasy QB in 2015 with possible matchup value.
Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer
RB Andre Ellington - Solid/Safe Pick
UPDATE (9/30): Lingering injury issues have forced Arizona to move away from Andre Ellington. When healthy, Ellington is a viable RB2 for Fantasy owners. Even upon his return, Ellington will have to compete for snaps against Chris Johnson and the electric rookie David Johnson. Ellington should be downgraded for the foreseeable future.
After showing big-play ability in 2013 when he averaged 5.5 yards per carry, Ellington gained only 3.3 YPC last year. He set career highs in carries (201), rushing yards (660), catches (46), receiving yards (395) and TDs (five) while playing just 12 games. And he ran on an injured foot the entire time. His season ended in Week 13 because of a hip injury that was later classified as a sport hernia and required surgery. Ellington had eight straight games last year with at least 20 touches, but he didn't have one 100-yard performance on the ground. His best outing came in Week 5 when he accumulated 144 total yards and two scores. The addition of David Johnson will certainly cut into his snaps and touches this year. Ellington will see almost all of the action on passing downs and third downs. I expect him to lose the short-yardage and goal-line carries. The Cardinals ran the ball only 397 times in 2014, which somewhat limits Ellington's upside without better play by the offensive line. I'm sure Arizona would like to give Andre 15 touches per game, which works out to 240 for the year. He should be in position to gain 1,200 yards with 50-plus catches and a handful of touchdowns. Ellington can be a mid-range RB2. He has an ADP of 50 in the early draft season, making him the 18th RB selected.
Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington
RB David Johnson - Fantasy Handcuff
UPDATE (9/30): Despite seeing few touches early in the season, David Johnson's talent is very obvious. He is blessed with size and speed. As the Cardinals' trust in him grows, so will his workload. That said, Arizona is a pass-friendly team with a crowded backfield. If Chris Johnson were injured, David would have an excellent opportunity. For now, the rookie's role is too small and inconsistent to translate into reliable Fantasy success. CJ2K and Ellington owners should consider getting David as a handcuff.
Over four years at Northern Iowa, David ran for 4,682 yards on 866 carries with 49 rushing TDs. He also caught 141 passes for 1,734 yards and 14 more touchdowns. His best season came during his senior year as he racked up 2,089 combined yards, 38 catches and 19 TDs. His game has intriguing upside as David can be a three-down player if he can handle his role in pass protection. I like his hands, and he is going to be a tough cover for linebackers. His first step isn't electric, but he runs with some patience and his second gear is better than it looks. Johnson has a decent stiff arm. He's got some shoulder wiggle to get defenders flat footed at the second level. Arizona has to give him 200-plus carries. He will also catch at least 30 passes and lead the team in rushing TDs. As the 56th RB off the board in the early draft season and with an ADP of 178, Johnson is a complete steal. He has RB2 upside even in a split role. If Ellington gets hurt, David could be 2015's version of Jeremy Hill with better hands.
RB Chris Johnson - Gamble (high risk)
UPDATE (9/30): Chris Johnson is re-establishing himself in the Fantasy world. Through three games, he has compiled 219 rushing yards and two TDs. With dependable running backs in such high demand, the running back formerly known as CJ2K should be welcomed in all leagues as a flex or RB3. Due to Andre Ellington's persistent injury woes, Johnson should retain his Fantasy value throughout the season even while being pressed for playing time by rookie David Johnson.
WR Larry Fitzgerald - Over the Hill (decreased production)
UPDATE (9/30): Does Larry Fitzgerald know it isn't 2008? A red hot start by Arizona's passing attack has put Fitzgerald back on the Fantasy map. After three underwhelming seasons, Fitz is on track to match the numbers posted in his prime. The Cards' revolving door at running back is also contributing to their dependence on the pass. Fantasy owners may want to consider selling high before reality sets back in.
In the offseason, I was hoping Larry would sign with a high-profile offense just to see him have one more elite year. Fitzgerald is coming off the least productive season of his career (63 catches on 103 targets for 784 yards and two scores in 14 games). His campaign started with a bum knee in Week 1, which led to only one catch for 22 yards on four targets. He struggled to find his rhythm when Palmer was out of the lineup in Week 2-5 (12 catches on 24 targets for 142 yards and no touchdowns). Then over the next five games with Carson behind center, Larry caught 31 of 37 targets for 469 yards and two TDs. He missed Weeks 12 and 13 with a knee injury and his game had no value over the final month of the season due to his health and Arizona's poor QB play. At age 32, Larry has lost his elite WR value. When healthy and when Palmer was also playing well, Fitzgerald was on pace for 99 catches, 1,501 yards and six TDs. He's now the 39th WR selected and has an ADP of 96 in early drafts. For him to be a weak WR3 in PPR leagues, Larry will need to score 180 or so Fantasy points. With 89 career TDs in 170 games, Fitzgerald should score between 6-8 times. And he did score 10 TDs in 2013 when Carson threw him the ball. He has eight seasons on his resume with at least 70 catches and six seasons with at least 1,000 yards. My survey says 70 receptions, 900 yards and seven TDs. That's 202 Fantasy points.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR John Brown - Sleeper (undervalued)
The hype train was all over Brown after he caught 10 passes for 165 yards and a score during the preseason. Over three seasons at Pittsburg State University, John caught 185 passes for 3,380 yards and 34 TDs. Brown flashed elite speed at the 2014 NFL combine (4.34 40-yard dash). John has plus quickness and some open-field ability. At just 5 feet 10 and 179 pounds, he struggles to break free at the line of scrimmage. As exciting as he looked at times last year, Brown caught only 48 of his 103 targets (46.6 percent catch rate) for 695 yards and five TDs. His best game occurred in Week 8 as he caught five of 10 targets for 119 yards and a touchdown. He saw eight or more targets in five games. Over the winter, he added 10 pounds of muscle to help his release. There has been more than one report stating that Brown is poised for a breakout year. His ability to catch the ball close to the line of scrimmage gives him a big advantage over Michael Floyd in terms of possible targets. With only a small step forward and better QB play, John should easily catch 60 passes for 900 yards and have some value at the goal line. He's currently being drafted as a WR5 with an ADP of 130. He has the type of talent a Fantasy owner looks for when building WR depth.
WR Michael Floyd - Bust (overvalued)
Following his breakthrough 2013 season in which he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five scores, Michael was being drafted as a WR2 and ahead of Fitzgerald in some leagues. He delivered two 100-yard games over his first three starts of 2014. Then he was pretty much a train wreck the rest of the way (28 catches on 65 targets for 436 yards and four TDs). He was even completely shut out in two of those contests. For the second time in three seasons, Michael delivered an elite game in Week 17 against the 49ers (eight catches for 153 yards and two TDs in 2013; eight catches for 166 yards and one TD in 2012). His catch rate dropped from 57.5 percent to 47.5 percent in 2014 due to the Cardinals' injury mess at quarterback. In addition, John Brown became a factor in the offense. Floyd has settled into the big-play WR (17.9 yards per catch last year). He has talent, but there probably isn't room in this offense for three wide receivers to have consistent Fantasy success. I expect Floyd to get about six targets per game, which probably works out to about 55 catches for 800-plus yards and a handful of TDs. I don't see him as starter in Fantasy, but he'll have occasional value at the flex position when he has a favorable matchup.
Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd
TE Troy Niklas - Low Potential
Troy has a really short college resume after switching to the TE position in his sophomore season. In 2013 at Notre Dame, he caught 32 passes for 498 yards and five TDs. He has solid strength, but he needs to develop his receiving skill set. Niklas has upside, but he won't make a Fantasy impact if he can't stay healthy. A broken hand last June hurt his growth in training camp, and Troy suffered a high ankle sprain in early October. Last year, Niklas was on the field for only 90 plays, which led to only three catches for 38 yards. He underwent a procedure on his ankle this June after rolling it during a practice. The Cardinals completed just 50 passes for 568 yards and one touchdown to the tight end position last season. Niklas' biggest threat for catches is probably incoming rookie Gerald Christian. In two seasons at Louisville, Gerald caught 60 passes for 810 yards and nine TDs. Based on the talent at TE, there is no upside here, which bodes well for the Cardinals' wide receivers.
PK Chandler Catanzaro - Quality Backup
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Arizona - Quality Backup
Arizona has the toughest schedule of any run defense based on 2014 stats. They have five games against teams with strong ground attacks -- Seattle (twice) San Francisco (twice) and the Cincinnati Bengals. Four of those games come over the last eight weeks of the year. The Cardinals have only two games against poor run offenses -- the Lions and Bears. Over their final nine weeks, the Cardinals have seven games against opponents with below-par passing attacks. They have to face four quality aerial attacks -- New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
The Cardinals dropped to 13th in rushing yards allowed (108.7 per game) after leading the league in run defense in 2013 (84.4 yards per game). They allowed 4.4 yards per carry, which was 0.7 yards more than the previous year. Arizona gave up nine rushing TDs. They racked up 25 sacks while allowing the fourth-most passing yards (259.5 per game). They permitted 22 passing TDs and had 18 interceptions.
DE Calais Campbell was the Cardinals' best defensive player in 2014. He was a plus player against the run while recording seven sacks, seven QB hits and 30 QB hurries. Corey Peters is expected to start this year at defensive end. While with the Falcons last year, Peters was slightly above average against the run and had low value in the pass rush (two sacks, four QB hits and 15 QB hurries). He spent much of last season at defensive tackle. DE Frostee Rucker had five sacks, five QB hits and 18 QB hurries with some value in the run support. DE Cory Redding will add depth off the bench.
LaMarr Woodley might start at outside linebacker. He should add value to the pass rush with only league-average success against the run. In 2013, he had five sacks, eight QB hits and 24 QB hurries. LB Kevin Minter added value against the run in his first season as a starter after being drafted in the second round in 2013. He offered no upside when rushing the QB (one sack, two QB hits and one QB hurry). LB Alex Okafor struggled as run defender in his first season as a starter. He finished with eight sacks, six QB hits and 27 QB hurries. LB Sean Weatherspoon has played just seven games since the end of the 2012 season due to injuries. But he has been cleared following his 2014 Achilles tear and is likely to start for the Cardinals. He plays good run defense and recorded more than 200 tackles from 2011 to 2012.
CB Patrick Peterson had a real tough year in coverage (56 catches on 99 targets for 759 yards and eight TDs with three INTs). He allowed 281 yards after the catch. Peterson has talent, but he cannot match the top WRs in the game when playing one-on-one coverage. Safety Tyrann Mathieu played well in pass coverage in 2013 before blowing out his ACL and LCL that December. He didn't play at an elite level last year. With a full offseason to recover, Mathieu should offer upside in the secondary. CB Jerraud Powers was a slight edge in pass coverage (57 catches for 692 yards, two TDs and three INTs on 87 targets). CB Deone Bucannon was a huge negative in run support after being drafted in the first round in 2014. He wasn't much better in coverage (45 catches on 53 targets for 422 yards and two scores). Deone is an aggressive hitter with run-stopping upside. Even with plus speed and quickness for his position, Bucannon has limitations when matched up versus an elite wideout.
Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
This defense has some playmaking ability in the secondary and one upside defender on the front line. I don't see enough talent here for this unit to regain its previous form in run defense. The Cardinals will try to attack the QB, but they invite big plays when their pass rush in neutralized. Arizona has been a top-10 Fantasy defense over the past three years, but I don't like them as much this year. I would draft the Cardinals only as a backup defense this year.