|By Shawn Childs, Friday, August 25, 2017|
The Cardinals lost value on both sides of the ball in 2016 leading to their first losing season (7-8-1) under Bruce Arians. They finished 14th in points allowed (362) while finishing well below their value in yards allowed (2nd). Arians has a 41-22-1 career record with two playoff appearances. He has nine seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator leading to two Super Bowl titles. Harold Goodwin returns for his fifth season as the offensive coordinator. Goodwin has 12 years of experience in the NFL while being part of two Super Bowl titles under Arians in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals ranked 9th in offensive yards and sixth in points scored (418). They scored 71 fewer points than they did in 2015 (489) and a negative net change of 120 points from the previous year. James Bettcher will run the defense for the third straight year. Over the three previous seasons, Bettcher worked as a linebacker's coach for the Cardinals.
This defense did take some losses with the defection of CB Markus Cooper, CB Tharold Simon, S Tony Jefferson, S D.J. Swearinger, LB Kevin Minter, LB Sio Moore, and DT Calais Campbell. Four of those players (Jefferson, Swearinger, Minter, and Campbell) were all starters with high levels of success. Cooper was also a starter but showed risk in coverage. Moore was serviceable in a rotational role at the linebacker position.
The Cardinals signed S Antoine Bethea, LB Karlos Dansby, and DE Jarvis Jones. All three options are neutral options with Bethea and Dansby losing the battle with age. Jones has a chance to offer value in a part-time role.
Blaine Gabbert was brought in to compete with Drew Stanton for the backup quarterback job. K Phil Dawson will replace K Chandler Catanzaro. Catanzaro signed with the Jets.
The Cardinals lost TE Darren Fells, T Earl Watford, and G Taylor Boggs. Watford had many starts in 2016, but he finished as one of the weaker options at his position in the league.
Defense was on the mind of Arizona with their first two picks – LB Haason Reddick and S Budda Baker. Reddick brings speed and power to the table with the talent to play on all three downs. He'll have plus value in coverage with some upside rushing the QB. He needs to add more bulk to help break free from the big boys. Baker is another player built on speed and quickness. His coverage skills have cornerback traits and he offers upside in run support. His lack of size (5'10" and 195 lbs.) is a concern at safety, especially when covering big receivers.
In the third round, the Cardinals selected WR Chad Williams. He looks like a reach by Arizona since he was projected to go much later in the draft. Williams has plus hands while playing with a physical style. His burst off the line is below NFL average and he may lack the explosiveness to create space in his pass routes. More of a project who will be making a step up in competition.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Arizona added G Dorian Johnson and T Will Holden. Johnson has the base skills to start in the NFL with some coaching needed to improve his technique. He needs to find a balance between attacking and letting the game come to him. He should handle himself well in the run game. Holden will help improve a power run game. His pass blocking window has a limited range, but he has the strength to hold his ground against a bull rush.
The Cardinals invested in RB T.J. Logan in the fifth round. He has elite speed (4.37) with underlying strength for his size (5'9" and 196 lbs.). Logan will be electric if given a clean run in to the second level of the defense while having risk between the tackles. The rookie will upgrade the return game while projecting as an asset in the passing game. He needs to improve his ball security to get extended playing time at the next level.
With their last pick in the sixth round, Arizona selected S Rudy Ford. He brings strength to the table with his best trait coming in run support. Ford has risk in coverage so he may need to earn his keep on special teams early in his career.
Even with elite RB David Johnson, Arizona placed 18th in rushing yards (1,732) while producing 20 rushing TDs. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry with 10 runs over 20 yards. The Cardinals had 40 negative rushes and 48 runs over 10 yards.
Arizona finished 9th in passing yards (4,136) with 28 passing TDs and 17 Ints. Their offensive line gave up 41 sacks and 127 QB hits, leading to only 51 catches for 20 yards or more and only six catches over 40 yards.
LT D.J. Humphries didn't play a down in 2015 after Arizona selected him in the first round in the 2015 NFL Draft. Humphries is more advanced in the run game while having some risk in pass protection. He missed three games in 2016 while showing risk in all areas. The Cardinals moved him from right tackle to left tackle in 2017.
RG Mike Iupati tends to be a league average player with more upside as run blocker. The 49ers drafted him in the first round in 2010.
C A.Q. Shipley was the best player on this line last year. His resume is only league average at best after getting drafted in the seventh round in 2009 by the Steelers.
RG Evan Boehm only saw two games of action in 2016 with close to starting snaps. He is a power player with smarts and toughness. His best value will come in a power running game. Boehm will have limitations as far as width in his pass blocking, but he has enough quickness to fire a winning punch. He was drafted as a center and he could very well earn that job this season creating an opening for one of the incoming rookies.
RT Jared Veldheer saw his 2016 season end after Week 8 with a triceps injury. He's been an above league average player in five of the last six years. That being said, the move from LT to RT in 2017 suggests his game is fading. He is at his best in run blocking.
Pass protection remains a huge question mark again in 2017. Left tackle appears to be a weakness with the other four positions having an outside chance at being league average if Boehm and this year's rookie class can take a step forward. The run blocking should be improved.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Cardinals' rushing offense will have a huge edge in their two games against the 49ers. They face five teams (DAL, SEA X 2, TEN, and NYG) that played well vs. the run in 2016. Overall, this schedule looks to be about neutral.
On the passing side, Arizona has two tough matchups (HOU and JAX) followed by five mid-tier matchups (PHI, SEA X 2, and LAR X 2). Their best success should come against the Titans while the NYG, WAS, IND, and DAL have some risk in pass coverage.
The Cardinals ran the ball 38.1 percent of the time partly due to game score. They played a high level of defense, but Arizona was forced to pass too many times especially with an offensive line that struggled to protect the quarterback.
The Cardinals' run defense has four games (LAR X 2, DET, and NYG) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball in 2016. They will be tested against the Titans and the Cowboys.
Their pass defense has eight games (DAL, SF X 2, LAR X 2, HOU, PHI, and TEN) who struggled to pass the ball in 2016. Arizona has four below par matchups (SEA X 2, IND, and WAS) in the passing game.
Arizona finished 9th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,518), but they gave up 16 rushing TDs despite ball carriers gaining just 3.6 yards per rush and only six runs for 20+ yards.
Their pass defense allowed 3.365 yards (4th) with 21 passing TDs and 14 Ints. QBs gained 6.8 yards per pass attempt while their defensive line delivered 48 sacks.
DT Corey Peters was only able to secure rotational snaps in his first season with the Cardinals after spending five seasons in Atlanta. He had no sacks while working on early downs against the run. DT Rodney Gunter regressed in his second year in the league. The Cardinals drafted him in the fourth round in 2015. Gunter has only 2.5 sacks in 32 career games with 34 tackles. DT Robert Nkemdiche was only on the field for 83 plays in his rookie season after the Cardinals added him in the first round. He battled ankle and elbow injuries for most of the season. Based on talent, this could be a steal for the Cardinals. Based on production, Nkemdiche could be just a name in the lineup card. He has the size (6'3" and 294 Lbs.) and quickness to provide an edge at his position with possible value on the outside on occasions. He needs better vision of the unfolding play while improving his pass rushing technique. The bottom line here: Nkemdiche needs to commit to the game to offer value on a higher volume of plays.
LB Chandler Jones has 40 sacks over his last 67 games with steady production in tackles. He had his best season of his career with Arizona. He signed a $83 million contract in March. LB Deone Bucannon missed three games late in the year due to an ankle injury that required surgery. His tackles (91) were on pace with his 2015 season (112), but he failed to record a sack. Bucannon is a former first rounder (2014) with upside in his game. LB Karlos Dansby has a long resume of success in the NFL and he did have 114 tackles with the Browns in 2016. His downside comes with his age (36 in November). His backup is 2017 first round pick Haason Reddick. LB Markus Golden turned into a monster in his second season in the league. He had 12.5 sacks with growth in his tackles. Golden struggled with plantar fasciitis in the offseason, but it looks like a minor problem. Arizona drafted him in the second round in 2015. LB Jarvis Jones was added for depth and he was a first round pick by the Steelers in 2013.
CB Patrick Peterson continues to be an upper echelon player at his position. His defended passes have been short in his last three seasons due to limited chances. Opposing quarterbacks tend to stay away from his side of the field. Peterson has 20 career interceptions. He had surgery in the offseason to repair an ankle injury. Brandon Williams is slated to start at the other cornerback slot. He missed a couple of games late in 2016 due to an injury. Williams has difference maker speed and overall athletic ability. His lack of experience leads some to look into the backfield for a possible missed step or two when his man works his way through traffic. Williams has a lot to learn with the key to his starting ability tied to his football instincts. His competition for playing time will come from CB Justin Bethel, who's been a below league average player in his career. S Antoine Bethea has 11 years of experience in the NFL while his game looks to be on a slightly regressive path. Bethea helps in the run game while recording over 100 tackles in five of his last seven seasons. S Tyrann Mathieu wasn't the same player late last season after his recovery from a torn ACL and a mid-season shoulder injury that cost him six games. When healthy, he is one of the better players in the league at his position. Arizona added S Budda Baker in the second round of this year's draft to improve the overall depth in the secondary.
This defense lost multiple players of talent in the offseason, but they do have enough depth to weather the storm. The defensive line has question marks for sure, but there are enough overlaps and strength at linebacker to push a player forward in a 4-3 alignment to add pass rushing ability. The second and third levels of the defense have talent. The keys to repeated success are growth by Robert Nkemdiche and Brandon Williams plus a healthy season from Tyrann Mathieu. Some of their high rankings on defense in 2016 were due to four favorable matchups against the 49ers and the Rams. I do fear the loss of DE Calais Campbell will have a trickle-down affect on Arizona's pass rush, leading to more risk in pass coverage. The Cardinals are probably a top 8 Fantasy defense with matchup value in multiple games.
QB Drew Stanton - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 11/18/17Stanton may not start this week due to a knee issue. Over his three games played, Drew continues to have a poor completion rate (48.4) while gaining only 5.9 yards per pass attempt. The Texans have the worst pass defense in the league with three bad games (KC - 324/3, SEA - 452/4, and LAR - 361/3) and one disaster game (NE - 378/5). Over the last three games, QBs have 1,121 yards with nine TDs against the Texans. Not a great QB with injury downside, but this is a winnable matchup.
QB Carson Palmer - Bust (overvalued)
Update 10/20/17Palmer was well on his way to a huge day vs. the Buccaneers, but game score and time of possession in the second half cut short his upside. Carson finished with 283 yards and three TD despite attempting a season low 22 passes (23.4 fewer than his first five games). Last season he threw for 533 yards and four TDs in two games against the Rams with his best success coming on the road (255/3). QBs have eight passing TDs against LA with one team passing for over 300 yards (SF - 332/2). Los Angeles does have a lot more risk vs. the run (174/837/8) with ball carriers gaining 4.8 yards per rush. The addition of Adrian Peterson does help the overall balance of this offense. Palmer has talent and speed at WR so he may hit on a long scoring play or two. Like his direction and this offense did show a spark last week. Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB T.J. Logan - Not Draft Worthy
Over four seasons at North Carolina, Logan rushed for 2,165 yards on 398 carries with 19 rushing TDs plus 76 catches for 663 yards and four more TDs. Logan never had a season where he was the lead back in college. He runs with a homerun gear, which will offer value in the return game or as a change of pace option. Logan plays well in the passing game with a high enough skill set to pass protect. He returned five kickoffs for touchdowns in 77 chances with the Tar Heels.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB David Johnson - Stud (low risk)
2016 was a special year for Johnson leading to 373 touches for 2,118 combined yards with 80 catches and 20 TDs. He scored 411.8 Fantasy points in PPR leagues, which is in the area of best seasons by the running back position in history. He played behind a questionable offensive line while developing into a great option in the passing game. Johnson gained 11.0 yards per catch to lower his career average to 11.5. He had over 100 combined yards in each of his first 15 games before going down in Week 17 with a left knee injury that luckily didn't need surgery. He had four games with over 100 yards rushing and four games with double-digits targets. From Week 7 to Week 12 (six games), Johnson caught 44 passes for 437 yards and four TDs on 53 targets. This season, he has a chance to run for over 1,000 yards plus gain over 1,000 yards receiving. It would be the first time a running back has done that since Marshall Faulk in 1999 (1,381 yards and ,1048 yards receiving). He's settled into being the best running back and the best receiver on the team. Possible 300+ rushes for 1,300+ yards, 20+ TDs and 100+ catches with 1,000+ yards receiving. His edge over Le'Veon Bell is TDs, which is what wins Fantasy championships.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Adrian Peterson - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 11/18/17Peterson is batting .500 after four games in Arizona. He played well vs. Tampa (26/134/2) and San Fran (37/159), but he was a losing play against the Rams (33 combined yards with a catch) and the Seahawks (42 combined yards with a catch). Over this span, Adrian has 24.75 touches per game highlighted by 39 in Week 9. The Texans have the best defense in the league vs. RBs with a high level of success against the run (203/709/1). Not a great matchup with questionable QB play. the change to Blaine Gabbert is an upgrade for the Cardinals' offense in Week 1. Still too tough to trust at this level even with a high number of touches expected.
RB Andre Ellington - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/20/17After being a star in the passing game for three week (5/59, 9/86, and 9/65), Ellington came up empty in Week 6. The Cardinals had him on the field for 13 plays leading to only one target. Game score crushed his chance thanks to Adrian Peterson running the ball well on early downs. Andre is clearly the pass catching back, but he needs Arizona to be losing. RBs have 35 catches for 316 yards and two TDs on 48 targets against the Rams. Only a flier at this level unless you believe the Cardinals will be playing from behind and Ellington scores a TD.
WR Jaron Brown - Solid/Safe Pick
Update 10/16/17With John Brown back on the field last week, Jaron only had six targets while being in the field for only 36 plays. He barely edged out J.J. Nelson for WR3 snaps (32) while finishing with three catches for 39 yards. With all receivers expected to play again in Week 6, Brown has a smell of being a daily donation.
WR Larry Fitzgerald - Gamble (high risk)
Update 11/18/17In his two games without Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald has 15 catches for 183 yards with 23 targets. After ten weeks, Larry is the 4th highest scoring WR in PPR leagues with three strong games (13/149/1, 10/138/1, and 10/113). Larry averages 9.8 targets per game. Houston ranks 31st in the NFL defending WRs (100/1610/12 on 157 targets). This secondary struggled vs. WR in the last three games (Tyler Lockett - 6/121, Paul Richardson - 6/105/2, T.Y. Hilton - 5/175/2, and Robert Woods - 8/171/2) while struggling in Week 3 as well (Brandin Cook - 5/131/2 and Chris Hogan - 4/68/2). Most of the damage has come on the outside in the deep passing game. CB Kareem Jackson looks to be a weak link in coverage out of the slot. The change to a third QB in four games can't help Fitzgerald over the short term especially on the road. Larry will be popular this week, which may be a sign of a trap even in a upside matchup.
WR John Brown - Gamble (high risk)
Update 11/03/17Brown only has nine catches for 136 yards and two TDs on 22 targets over his last four games while receiving WR snaps in the Cardinals last three contests. In Week 4, he had three catches for 47 yards on seven targets against the 49ers. San Fran has risk in all three CB slots so Brown could surprise. The change at QB to Drew Stanton does hurt his overall upside.
WR J.J. Nelson - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Twice in 2016, Nelson flashed upside. He caught eight of 12 targets in Week 8 vs. the Panthers for 79 yards and two TDs. In Week 16, he had three catches for 132 yards and a TD on seven targets. The Cardinals gave him double-digit targets in Week 15 (11) and Week 17 (12). Over the last 10 games of the season, he had 30 catches for 517 yards and six TDs on 68 targets plus two rushes for 60 yards and a TD. His catch rate (45.9) does invite risk in some games. Nelson lacks the size (5'10' and 160 lbs.) to be a high-volume WR without adding more bulk and strength. He can make big plays with his speed, creating a 50 or 60-catch opportunity for 800+ yards and a handful of TDs.
WR Chad Williams - Deep-league Only
Over his last two seasons at Grambling, Williams caught 164 passes for 2,349 yards and 21 TDs. His skill set may be what this offense needs at WR2, but this is a huge step up in competition. The rookie comes with an edge in hands and a physical style. Williams has risk in his release and his acceleration isn't strong enough to create a big passing window over the short areas of the field. Arizona pushed on him in the draft so they believe in his upside. More of a project for now while respecting his talent. Training camp news and his play this summer will be key to his value in 2017.
TE Troy Niklas - Not Draft Worthy
Over three seasons in the NFL, Niklas only has eight catches for 71 yards and two TDs due to multiple injuries, Arizona drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. His resume was short at Notre Dame (32/498/5) in is best year. Possible step forward, but he has a lot to prove.
TE Jermaine Gresham - Low Potential
In 2016, the Cardinals completed 54 passes for 594 yards and three TDs on 79 targets to the TE position. After getting backup snaps over the first four games of the season, Gresham had 33 catches for 350 yards and two TDs on 54 targets. He hasn't been a factor in his two seasons in Arizona after catching over 50 passes in four of his five years with the Bengals. He scored 24 TDs in his first 74 NFL games with this number fading to three TDs in 31 games with the Cardinals. Low upside opportunity for Gresham while being the top option on the roster. A good season would be 50+ catches for 500+ yards and five TDs, which would require most of the TE action on this roster.
PK Phil Dawson - Bye Week Fill-in
The last two seasons in San Fran have been tough for Dawson due to a poor offense. He made 42-of-48 kicks (87.5 percent) in 2015 and 2016, which remains above his career average (84.5 percent). Dawson is 38-for-54 from 50 yards or longer in his career. In addition, he missed two of his last 55 extra point tries over the last two years. In 2016, the Cardinals scored 51 TDs while creating 28 field goal chances. He ranks 15th all-time in scoring in the NFL. This should be a top 12 opportunity and his leg still has plenty of life even at age 42.