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The Complete Arizona Cardinals 2017 Fantasy Football Preview

What sort of fantasy numbers can we expect from the 2017 Arizona Cardinals?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the advent of football season upon us, the coming of fantasy football season has likewise returned once more.

So, what can we expect from the top fantasy players on the Arizona Cardinals this year?

Throughout the season, I’ll taking a weekly look at the Cardinals’ matchups and projected stats versus the match-ups for the week. For projected points, I’ll be using the ESPN standard scoring

But first we’ll take a look at the fantasy expectations for the top 10 Cardinals for the entire season, starting with the most obvious fantasy choice:

RB David Johnson:

This portion of the write-up isn’t to suggest whether or not you should start David Johnson.

That already, is a given.

David Johnson outscored, in most leagues, the majority of NFL quarterbacks in fantasy. Gaining over 100 rushing yards in his first 15 games before being sidelined with an injury, Johnson had over 1239 yards rushing and 879 yards receiving to go along with 20 touchdowns.

Simply put, he WAS the 2016 Arizona Cardinals offense. In some PPR leagues (for those who don’t know, you get an extra half-point or point per catch) his insane 80 catches made him practically worth both a top-flight running back AND wide receiver. He averaged 18 carries a game (19 when you remove the Rams game) and 5 catches per game and Arians has stated that he’ll get 30 touches a game.

So can we expect the same from Johnson in 2017? Will he live up to the #1 overall billing?

Well....

Yes and no.

I’ll admit that I undersold Johnson last year.

I predicted that he’d get just under 2,000 yards and wouldn’t hit 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving (only the latter would turn out to be false) but there’s some good reasons to think that perhaps he doesn’t have QUITE the same result.

First of all, the 2016 Cardinals offense was very limited, especially early in the season with Fitzgerald and Johnson accounting for 51% of the total offensive output. If John Brown is healthy and with an offensive line entering the season in a (probably) healthier place than they were last year, the Cardinals might be able to spread the ball around more as teams key in on eliminating Johnson from the run and passing games.

Johnson’s season was also historic, and it’s arguably rare to see that sort of thing repeat, much less becoming the third member of one of the most exclusive clubs in the NFL by joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk in the 1,000/1,000 club.

That said--there’s also good reason to think that Johnson’s more than capable of repeating his season. His consistency and the fact that he was matchup-proof no matter if it was the Seahawks defense or the Niners demonstrated that he was a fantasy giant. That should continue this year, but is Johnson going to have QUITE that heavy of a workload?

It seems unlikely.

The elimination of Chris Johnson, Kerwynn Williams and a healthy Andre Ellington means that Arizona is better equipped to spell Johnson’s workload and keep him fresh should they be making a late-season playoff push. And with the re-signed Jermaine Gresham and John Brown in addition to the returning J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown as WR2 to start the year, it’s difficult to know if Johnson’s 120 receiver targets will hold up. I think they will, but it’s not the “sure bet” it might have been looking at the start of last season.

As a result, I wouldn’t expect Johnson to have quite the rushing totals he did a season ago. That said, I do think that the Cardinals will keep Johnson and his nose for the end zone in on all goal-line situations and if the offense is improved, it could give Johnson more opportunities.

I’m picking Johnson to hit the 1,000 rushing/1,000 receiving mark this year, in part because Arians likes to scheme his game plan to get his guys records but I think in this situation, they’ll give him a chance for more receptions up front against a somewhat softer schedule to save him for the pounding he’ll take later in the season.

All in all, Johnson should be a fantasy stud and while there’s a chance he doesn’t QUITE live up to the #1 overall pick, if he stays healthy, he should deliver.

Predictions: 1017 rushing yards, 75 catches for 1091 receiving yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 7 receiving touchdowns.

Total: 334 points

WR Larry Fitzgerald

The old man can still play! Fitzgerald was a PPR monster last year, leading the team in receptions despite noticeably wearing down as the season stretched on as he took on the bulk of the receiving load for the Cardinals.

He was the top redzone passing option (outside, perhaps David Johnson) early in the season but his touchdown numbers petered off after the first few weeks in ‘16, and he only ended up with 6 touchdowns on the season. He hit 1000 yards, and if it is indeed his last season in the NFL, he’s got a few records likely in mind.

With 904 yards, Fitzgerald would pass Randy Moss for the 3rd most receiving yards by a wide receiver of all-time. That’s definitely going to be on his mind and the mind of Bruce Arians, and if he’s close down the stretch in the last few games of the season, I firmly believe that Fitzgerald will be fed the rock to get there, meaning that he could be a PPR playoff stud.

If the coaches know it’s his last season (depending on their playoff status) it wouldn’t be surprising to see them specifically design game-plans around getting him at least 55 yards a game and getting him involved early.

I don’t think Fitzgerald puts up the same touchdown numbers he did in 2015, but I could see him equaling his ‘16 output. I think he’s an easy starter in your PPR leagues, but in most standard leagues, I think he might be getting overdrafted.

Still—as he’s healthy going into the season with a very easy stretch against the Lions, Colts and Niners, he could see similar early dominance with a multi-TD game or two with his legs as fresh as they’ll be.

Predictions: 104 catches for 1,003 yards, 6 touchdowns.

Total: 136 points

QB Carson Palmer

Palmer was a bit of a conundrum last year in that after an insane 2015 season, he seemingly came back to earth in 2016. But how much of it was his fault? The Cardinals had only two receiving threats early in the year with Michael Floyd/John Brown and J.J. Nelson rendered ineffective through injury or personal issues and drops.

Palmer was also hit more than any other QB and took 40 sacks on the year. That number alone will likely improve barring catastrophic injuries, as the last time Palmer took that many hits in Arizona was the 2013 season. The season in which there is not a single offensive lineman who played on that squad who is still on the Arizona Cardinals and were coming off 2012 which featured one of the worst NFL offensive lines of all time.

If Palmer has more time in the pocket and an improved set of receivers to go along with what should be a better defense, I could see him ending up as a top 10 fantasy quarterback by the year’s end rather than the middling fantasy option he was last year. I don’t think he’ll quite reach the level of his 2015 play, in part because David Johnson is now set to take the load and I believe Arians won’t let him throw the ball 30-35 times every game. Instead, I’d guess he’ll likely split the difference between his ‘16 and ‘15 seasons.

Predictions: 4400 yards, 31 TD’s, 13 INT’s, 25 sacks, 50 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD.

Total: 292 fantasy points.

WR John Brown

John Brown is the biggest enigma of the 2017 season for the Cardinals fantasy options. He broke out in a huge way in 2014 as a perfect deep threat option for Bruce Arians’ offense and a well-rounded route tree that was expected to reach T.Y. Hilton levels.

...It didn’t happen. Brown’s 2015 he hit 1,000 yards but Palmer distributed the ball more evenly and Brown had health issues and battled injuries before heading into a 2016 in which he was rarely effective due to injury (see the trend?).

Brown is reportedly healthy, and described himself “at 90%”. 90% of John Brown will be better than any other third option on the Cardinals, but will it be enough? Will he be able to be effective and stay healthy throughout the whole season after he starts taking hits?

This is what’s unknown, but I’ll bet on the upside for two reasons.

First: outside of a major injury, it’s unlikely that Brown’s 2017 could be WORSE than 2016.

Second: Seeing the results of the Atlanta preseason game in which he caught two balls and promptly scored two touchdowns with 49 yards. That could very well indicate that Brown will play a major part of the Cardinals offense and red zone plans this year. Now, he won’t score a touchdown EVERY time he touches the ball, but I do think that he could at least equal his 7 touchdown total in 2015, if not possibly surpass it. He’s a risk/reward player who you can draft late and has the potential to perform as a WR2, and might even end up with better yards and touchdown totals than Fitzgerald.

In 2015, Brown averaged 4 catches per game, to see that number fall to 2.4 last year. I think he’ll equal that 2015 total and, if healthy, could be a sleeper in Arizona’s offense to end up a solid fantasy performer.

But buyer beware...if Brown starts missing practice time and his injuries seem to linger, the pick might backfire if you reach too soon. Take him around his average draft position and you should expect to be surprised. And if he gets hurt again? No harm, no foul with how low the risk is. I’ll swing for the upside with him this season.

Prediction: 74 catches for 850 receiving yards, 8 Touchdowns

Total: 99 points

TE Jermaine Gresham

Gresham was basically Arizona’s 3rd receiver last year, and put up a solid, if unspectacular, fantasy season as John Brown and JJ Nelson struggled to stay healthy. Gresham was re-signed for a pretty penny this offseason, and looks to be a bigger factor in the red zone than in seasons past if training camp and the preseason is to be believed.

If John Brown goes down with an injury, I think Gresham’s got more upside this year than last year to carry the load in the passing game somewhat, and while I don’t think that you can expect the same season yards and catch-wise as last year (assuming Troy Niklas will be will be cutting into some of that) I do think his touchdowns increase somewhat. He’s no TE1, but there are worse options for TE2 given how Palmer seems to be looking to him in the end zone more.

But, as is the case every year, Arians just doesn’t utilize his tight end all that often. I’ll pick Gresham to expand his touchdown total while keeping a similar amount of yards on slightly fewer catches (which could change in case of a John Brown injury).

He’s not a top 25 tight end, but maybe he’s worth a pick up in case of injury or if you’re in a league that requires 2nd or 3rd tight ends.

Prediction: 31 catches for 375 yards, 5 Touchdowns

Total: 67.5 points

WR J.J. Nelson

J.J. Nelson’s the final portion of the Cardinals WR Enigma Trinity. He ended up as Arizona’s WR3 last year and proved to be a big play machine, averaging over 16 yards per catch for 568 yards and 6 touchdowns.

But, he struggled with health and drop issues early in the season, the latter which has followed him into 2017. His opportunity seems to have declined with John and Jaron Brown have returned, though he might be good for the occasional 73-yard bomb and seems to have a higher upside total for touchdowns than say, Gresham or NIklas (and likely even Jaron Brown).

But...the question is consistency.

When Nelson was the clear-cut WR2 that consistency was found. But it still wasn’t as good as it appeared due to the higher yardage as a deep threat, as Nelson was targeted 74 times and only had 34 catches. Drops were a big part of that.

Now he might be WR4 on the depth chart and it’s impossible to know how involved he’ll be and it’s possible he doesn’t even repeat what he did last year.

For now, I’ll put Jaron Brown ahead as far as points go, but in Arians’ offense it’s more than possible that their fantasy predictions swap as the season treks on.

Prediction: 24 catches for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns

Total: 49 points

WR Jaron Brown

Jaron Brown is the other “J. Brown” on the Cardinals and no less an enigma. Some Cardinals fans have argued that he would be a WR2 on a less-talented team and Carson Palmer has said that he could be a “70 to 80 catch guy”.

That’s....awfully high praise. While Arians will probably have Jaron Brown as the WR2 and leading the team in snaps early on in the season due to him earning it (in part due to John Brown’s lack of quick healing) I do think that the shift in snaps changes as the season draws on. John Brown is just so much more talented and while Jaron is no slouch, there does seem to be a limit to his potential. He’s also coming off of an ACL but that doesn’t seem to have affected him in the slightest.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but as far as scheme goes I don’t think it’s fair to buy the “70-80 catch” hype. Partially because even John Brown has never hit that number, and Michael Floyd as WR2 only came close to that number under Arians ONCE in 2013. But the value of Jaron Brown could be a big steal in one way:

Nobody is drafting him.

Much like Chris Johnson in 2015, Brown is a guy who’s being prepped for a major role as WR2 and yet John Brown and J.J. Nelson are still being taken above him based on their past results and name recognition.

If Jaron Brown can snag 50 balls and four to five touchdowns this season, that could be tremendous value not just in deeper leagues but even in standard. And with John Brown’s health a question, he might end up in that “Michael Floyd” role of being a possession guy who occasionally gets targeted deep in one-on-one coverages, as he does have legit 4.4 speed. Before his injury last year, he had a 50 yard bomb of a touchdown from Carson Palmer against the Bucs.

If he can keep that up, or if John Brown can’t stay healthy, he’s potentially worth that late-round selection as his upside as a WR3 on the cheap could be too good to pass up. I’ll play conservative here knowing that he could go lower but also

Predictions: 45 catches for 750 yards, 4 TD’s.

Total: 99 Points

RB Kerwynn Williams

Kerwynn Williams is the clear RB2 on the Cardinals, and had a few long touchdowns out of the wildcat last year. He has a bonus as likely their starting punt and kick returner and while I don’t think he’s worth a draft pick outside of the deepest leagues, in case God forbid David Johnson should go down, he’s been more dependable than Andre Ellington and is a natural fit for Arians’ run scheme.

I’m not a big believer in handcuffing RB’s and do think that if Johnson does go down, Williams might not be on the field on 3rd down compared to Andre Ellington, who has a much higher upside as a pass-catcher. Likely Arizona would be Running Back By Committee as long as Johnson is out, but the fact that Williams has some value even though he has a #1 overall fantasy pick in front of him makes him worth the upside. He’ll be the back you want vs. Ellington because of that return ability.

Though be warned: if T.J. Logan comes back off of Injured Reserve in week 8, it’s possible that Kerwynn Williams will see his true value go away in a flash just like that.

Prediction: 40 attempts, 250 yards, 3 TD’s. Return yards=593, 0 TD’s.

Total=102 points

TE Troy Niklas

Niklas might be the deepest sleeper for fantasy the Cardinals have because, well, he’s really done nothing so far in the NFL so there’s nothing to expect.

He’s likely to fill the Darren Fells role as the big, strong body and has that 6’6 270 frame and pass catching ability. But with how injury-prone he has been and the fact that Ifeyani Momah

All he seems to do when he DOES play, however? Is catch touchdowns. He had 2 touchdowns in 2015 against the Browns and also hauled in a pass from Drew Stanton in the preseason. So there’s potentially some upside there but compared to the consistent Gresham it’s unlikely he’s going to have more to provide than Darren Fells has the last couple of years.

Prediction: 15 catches for 150 yards and 1 touchdown.

Total: 21 points

Cardinals Defense (and/or Special Teams)

The Cardinals have been one of the top fantasy defenses in the NFL for the past few years, despite inconsistent results at times they’ve been a dominant fantasy defense.

The 2016 Arizona Cardinals were still a top 10 defense despite poor real-life performance at times and a noticeable lack of turnovers. The reason?

Sacks. In which they finished 1st in the NFL.

This was a far cry from their 2015 season in which they forced 19 turnovers but were middling with only 36 sacks but finished as a top four fantasy defense as a result, with 6 defensive touchdowns as a unit.

My guess for this year?

From what we’ve seen in preseason, the Honey Badger is back, and the Cardinals’ cornerbacks seem to be a strength of the team. Dansby’s health and Reddick’s inexperience is a question while Deone Bucannon battles back to the field but overall my gut tells me that while their defense’s ability to stop the run might be less prevalent than in years past, this might be a potent fantasy defense.

Given the fact that Arizona now has Chandler Jones locked up along with Markus Golden, the team has the potential to get after the QB AND force turnovers. I think there’s a shot they could finish as a top 3 fantasy defense and put up better numbers than both ‘15 and ‘16’s teams.

To help out even more, the team could see a big boost in the return game as well from years past, especially if T.J. Logan comes off of IR after looking like a special returner in the preaseason. With games against some lackluster offenses, I could see AZ’s defense winning some fantasy games for players almost outright.

(Note: I won’t get into IDP or Individual Defensive Players but if you need some advice, here are the players I would look at below)

-Tyrann Mathieu

-Justin Bethel

-Karlos Dansby

-Tyvon Branch

-Markus Golden

-Chandler Jones

Players like Nkemdiche or Reddick might have fine seasons but are still unknowns at this point, I have no other comments on IDP. Depending on your league, Patrick Peterson might be really great or won’t do much as he is rarely targeted anymore.

Predictions: 250 fantasy points

K Phil Dawson:

Man, I don’t know—kickers are kickers.

At least when it comes to fantasy. Unlike last year in which the Cardinals learned just how important a kicker truly is, anyway...

Dawson should be consistent unlike Catanzaro and thus is completely worth a draft pick—but unless you’re in a deep league or kickers are more important in your league, it doesn’t bear nearly as much thought.

The Cardinals aren’t likely going to be an offense like the Chiefs or Ravens which could struggle in the redzone and see a higher % of kicks, but the fact that Arians trusted Dawson enough to kick a 60+ attempt in the preseason shows the faith they have in him.

Predictions: Bro...It’s a kicker.

Total: * sighs * Fine, 120 points.

I’ll have a short summary up tomorrow looking at the Cardinals vs. Lions matchup and will have a weekly series each Thursday going over which players to start, which to sit and the expectations.

Let’s finish off the 2017 fantasy preview with some Cardinals-themed fantasy football names, submitted by our readers:

Make sure you follow along and sound off in the comments section with your best Cardinals-related team names and fantasy expectations for 2017!

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.