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Arizona Cardinals Fantasy Projections: Fact or Fiction?

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Which Arizona Cardinals should you target in fantasy and what will they accomplish in 2016?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 version of the Arizona Cardinals was pretty generous to the Fantasy Football world.

Carson Palmer ended up as the 4th overall fantasy player in the majority of NFL.com, ESPN and Yahoo! leagues as far as total points, and many owners rode David Johnson to a league championship as he finished in the top 5 flex players overall, only behind Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman at fantasy running back.  And that was all despite the fact that he wasn't the starter for the majority of the season.

Arizona also had a top five D/ST in fantasy points last season, with a high number of forced turnovers in several blowouts and a huge game with eight sacks against Aaron Rodgers in the fantasy playoffs.

So, what will the 2016 Cardinals look like from a fantasy football perspective?  There seem to be a lot of opinions out there, let's take a look at which are accurate and which are myth:

Carson Palmer will be a Top 5 Fantasy Quarterback: Fact

Palmer exploded onto the fantasy scene in the Cardinals' passing attack last year and was a consistent threat.  While fantasy football is incredibly difficult to predict, let me ask a question.

What's stopping Palmer from repeating, or putting up a similar performance?

Every skill position player is back, and the offensive line appears to be improved.  And while David Johnson looks to bolster Arizona's run game, don't forget that:

1. Johnson is most dangerous in the passing game.

2. If Arizona's run game is effective, the deep passing game and play-action that Bruce Arians loves will also thrive.  Either way, Palmer will benefit.  Even if he throws more interceptions this season than last, those don't count for nearly as many points across the majority of your leagues.

(PS. The fact that guys like Tom Brady and Tony Romo are out will help as well.)  All in all, Palmer has the ability to repeat, even if Arizona runs the football more.  The only thing that stops Palmer is if Arizona runs the ball so well, he won't need to throw.

But when has that ever stopped Bruce Arians, I as, you?

Larry Fitzgerald will have 1,000 yards on the season and at least 7 Touchdowns: Fiction

The Cardinals WR's are a difficult bunch to sort out.  While Fitzgerald had a big resurgence last year, a huge stretch of his fantasy points came in the first few weeks of the year, when Michael Floyd was out with injury and John Brown was banged up.

While I think Fitz is a lock for a certain number of catches per game, when the offense was healthy, his role (especially in the redzone) was reduced.  That said, while I think Fitzgerald doesn't hit 1,000 yards on the season, I think he could end up in the 800+ range, and will certainly have a few big games this season.

As for touchdowns, there are so many weapons on the team while Fitzgerald has turned into more of a blocker and possession receiver.  I believe that he will see a few plays but all in all, won't reach that 7 TD mark.

So, if Fitz won't have 1,000 yards?  Who will?  The answer would be...

Michael Floyd Will Have 1,000 Yards Receiving This Season: Fact

Floyd has three big things in his favor:  He's tall, fast, and in a contract year.  With how Bruce Arians loves to air the ball out and have receivers who high-point the ball, there isn't a receiver like Floyd on this team who can be both a deep-field threat as well as a red-zone threat.

That said, Floyd's consistency has been an issue since he came to the Cardinals, only putting up a single 1,000 yard season with the team despite seemingly having the talent to do more than that.  So what's the reason for the change?

It's the last year of his deal, and he wants to get PAID.  Like, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant money.  And the only way he does that is if he goes off.  I don't see Floyd in that level of receiver on the field OR in fantasy, but I think that he's healthy and motivated, which could be a deadly combination.

John Brown Will Have 1,000 Yards Receiving This Season: Fiction

Maybe it's paranoia.  Maybe I am overreacting.  But while this offseason, I considered John Brown to be THE safest and most consistent wide receiver for the Cardinals worth drafting in fantasy, that all changed once he kept getting held out of practice due to headaches.

Now, it could be argued (and may be true) that the team was being cautious, but even still, many fantasy players remember the nervousness of Percy Harvin on the "Questionable" list and not knowing his status for the next week all too well.  While I think it's less likely that Brown could be the same way, Arizona has enough depth at wide receiver that he may see less playing time early on in the season to save him for down the stretch.

The other question with Brown?  Drops.  He's had a few key drops over the last two years, including two dropped touchdowns versus the Eagles in which he might have had 150 yards receiving.  While maybe this isn't a big deal, as far as fantasy goes, it could mean the difference between a win and a loss, even more than it does on a football field.

Brown has been keyed in more and more as teams try to combat the Cardinals' aerial attack, and with Fitzgerald, Floyd and Johnson, don't be surprised if the explosive plays turn out to feature Brown as a decoy more often than not.

David Johnson is going to have a 2,000 Yards From Scrimmage Season: Fiction

...But he'll probably get close.

While I believe Johnson is worthy of a top 10 pick and is a consistent player you should have already targeted in all of your leagues, Johnson's overall yardage total last year of 1,636 yards from scrimmage is tough to say that he will replicate.  Why is that?

Kick Returns.

Johnson had 598 yards on kick returns from 2015, a huge chunk of them coming from a 109-yard kickoff return vs. the Bears.

And Johnson isn't returning kicks this year.  But even still, let's take a look at his most productive stretch to see if it could be replicated.

When you break it down, he had 581 yards rushing and 457 receiving yards on the year, with a large chunk coming in a four game stretch.  Let's examine that four-game stretch:

David Johnson Touches Yards Rush Avg. Rush TD's Rec. Yards Avg. Rec. TD's
vs STL 22 99 4.5 0 2 21 10.5 1
vs MIN 19 92 4.8 0 5 31 6.2 0
@ PHI 29 187 6.4 3 4 42 10.5 0
vs GB 9 39 4.3 1 3 88 29.3 0

Once Johnson was named the unquestioned starter, in rushing and receiving he averaged close to:

  • 20 Touches per game, with a higher and lower swing of down to 9 and up to 29
  • Johnson had an average of 104.25 yards per game, and an average of 45.5 yards per reception.
  • Johnson averaged 1.25 TD's a game, with 1/4 of those being receiving TD's (for PPR players)

But the biggest difference is that Johnson is moving from the sole "bellcow" back to being part of a rotating back system to keep him healthy.  So, if this output for Johnson is unrealistic, what's a more realistic looking projection for Johnson?

Here's a projected stat line based off the Minnesota game, assuming that Arizona runs a 55-45 pass to run ratio as they did in this game with 35 passes and 30 carries (on average)

Taking away 10 carries from Johnson and giving him 3.5 passes (rounding up to four) according to his averages as a starter from last year, this looks like his stat line:

Johnson Touches Yards Rush Avg. Rush TD's Rec. Yards Avg. Rec. TD's
vs STL 19 86 4.5 1 3 35 11.5 0

Calculating this out, Johnson would end up with around 16.5 fantasy points on average per game and with around 1,936 yards.

Which, while close, doesn't equal the 2,000 yard benchmark.  And if history has anything to teach us, it's that fantasy players usually trend LOWER than that consistency that we expect.  For a variety of reasons.  Perhaps teams key in on the run, or maybe a running back gets hurt.  Even Adrian Peterson didn't put up close to those fantasy numbers.

In short, in a perfect world, David Johnson could be all that and more, but while it's possible, I would argue it is not probable.  That said, this shouldn't have stopped you from spending a 1st round pick on David Johnson, and I believe that you will be rewarded as such in the season.

And finally:

The Cardinals Defense Is Worth Their Average Draft Position of 105: Fiction

While I think that the Cardinals defense could be a top 5 in fantasy points, there are some concerns as far as turnovers go.  The Cardinals defense was huge in the fantasy playoffs, with big games versus the Eagles and Packers with turnovers and pick-sixes that sent some to fantasy championships.

And with the Cardinals' defense adding a few pass rushers like Chandler Jones and Robert Nkemdiche, it seems likely that they should be a great, if not better, defense again, correct?

On the field, perhaps.  But from a fantasy setting, their defense is getting drafted in places sometimes as high as the 69th pick?

That's a very high price for a D/ST, especially when you look at Rashad Johnson and Jerraud Powers being replaced by Tyvon Branch, DJ Swearinger and a starting cornerback who has played the position for one year in Brandon Williams.  Not to mention, Mathieu is coming off another ACL and may need some time to adjust.

Where Arizona won fantasy points last year was in TURNOVERS.  And while I think that the pass rush and sacks could certainly increase, the secondary was the key to Arizona's fantasy success.  And 1/2 that secondary has been replaced.

To boot, Arizona doesn't have as much special going on at the special teams spot, as (unless Arians changes his mind) Patrick Peterson and David Johnson have been replaced by Andre Ellington in the return game.  There is simply too many other excellent players at the current ADP that Arizona's defense falls for you to reach that high to take them.

If you already took Arizona's defense that high, I won't blame you for it, but I wouldn't expect you to win a fantasy championship as a result.

Make sure to tune in weekly as I will have plenty of weekly fantasy content for you to read each week here on Revenge of the Birds!

-You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.