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Arizona Cardinals fantasy football team preview

Who to target and avoid in fantasy football from the Arizona Cardinals.

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Cleveland Browns v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

From a bird’s eye view, Arizona has a challenging schedule that can be generally characterized as facing moderate-to-great offenses and an alternating group of stout-to-weak defenses. Teams like the 49ers, Bills, and Patriots offer tough defenses but a high likelihood of gamescript that puts the Cards’ offense into go-mode— a neutralizing factor when facing tough defenses. Teams like Washington, the Jets, Dolphins, and the Giants bring moderate offenses and haplessly exploitable defenses. Teams like the Lions, Cowboys, Seahawks, Eagles, and Rams offer stellar offenses with exploitable position groups on defense, again boding well for offense-heavy gamescripts for Arizona. The Panthers in Week 4 are perhaps the mirror image of the Cards: a great offense with a swiss cheese defense, the perfect combination for a high-scoring showdown.

Strength of Schedule (per Warren Sharp)

  • 14th overall softest
  • 10th hardest blend of pass and rush defenses
  • 5th hardest blend of passing offenses
  • 18th softest blend of rushing offenses

Quarterback

Despite the fact that Kyler Murray posted the 6th-lowest touchdown per pass attempt rate (3.7%) in the NFL, he still finished as the QB7 in fantasy scoring in 2019. Part of this was due to his phenomenal rushing ability—both on designed runs and scrambles—hanging 544 yards and 4 touchdowns on the league. Murray averaged a stellar 5.8 yards per carry on his 93 rushing attempts. As Warren Sharp noted in his 2020 Football Preview, the rookie signal caller averaged “7.3 YPC… on his 35 designed QB runs” (p. 26). Sharp also noted that “no run is more successful or efficient than a designed quarterback run” (p. 26). Props to rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury for employing such a lethal tactic that many teams are afraid to use. The belief that rushing QBs put themselves at a higher risk of injury runs rampant in NFL circles, despite concrete evidence to the contrary. Expect even more success for QB Kyler Murray in both the rushing and passing departments in 2020. The 2nd-year quarterback is due for positive regression to the mean in terms of his passing TD rate. Rising to the league average realm (4.5-5%) should be no issue. He’s a Top 5 fantasy QB.

Running Back

When it became apparent that injury-plagued starting running back David Johnson had run out of juice, Arizona’s front office flipped a conditional draft pick for Miami Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake. Drake, a proficient dual threat back, had never been given the reins to an offense before. On Halloween, three days after the Cardinals traded for him, Drake hung 162 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on the vaunted San Francisco 49ers’ defense. By and large, Drake eviscerated defenses for the remainder of 2019, operating as Arizona’s 18+ touch workhorse. Entering 2020, Drake is coming off the board (.5PPR) in the late 2nd-round as the RB12. Draft him there confidently as an RB1.

Backup RB Chase Edmonds has developed into a top-notch backup, capable of performing as a true lead back when injuries take out the starter. His talent trajectory could one day place him as one of the NFL’s premier dual threats. Arizona’s ground game efficiency was in an elite tier in 2019. With the addition of OT Josh Jones in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft—a player many graded as a 1st-round talent—the stock of the Cardinals’ backfield is trending even further up. If Kenyan Drake’s 18+ touch per game average continues, there are easily 8-10 touches per game for Chase Edmonds to absorb. In such a strong rushing attack, Edmonds (ADP of 158, RB49) is a screaming value in the later rounds. Rookie Eno Benjamin shows promise but the lack of a real training camp severely stunts his ability to develop early on.

Wide Receiver

Update 9/1/20: Although DeAndre Hopkins hopped on twitter to dispel rumors of a hold out in demand of a new contract, on yesterday’s episode of The Adam Schefter Podcast, alerted fantasy drafters that there is cause for concern (47:14 minute mark), saying “I can tell you there is absolutely desire for a new contract”.

The Cards’ receiver personnel prevented Kingsbury from running as many 4-receiver sets as he wanted to in 2019. Credit to him for altering his scheme as was needed. Per Warren Sharp’s 2020 Football Preview, Kingsbury was forced to use underwhelming wide receivers Damiere Byrd, KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper, and Trent Sherfield on over 61% of snaps during one-score games, with Sherfield topping the list at a whopping 75% of snaps (p. 27). 2020 offseason personnel moves look to have a significant, positive impact; enter DeAndre Hopkins, exit Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd and their 79 combined targets.

Although DeAndre Hopkins should immediately assume No. 1 WR responsibilities, complicating factors are present, including the history of receiver’ box score production suffering after changing teams in the offseason, as well as a possible reduction in as many as 40 targets off of his 166 5-year target average. His current WR4, late 1st-round ADP in .5PPR is untenable. That being said, he’s a dominant receiver in a receiver-centric offense. Hopkins should be considered a high-end WR2.

Christian Kirk continues to develop into a sound No. 2 WR in the NFL. Were it not for Hopkins’ presence, Kirk would be a locked-in fantasy WR2. Still though, with the Cardinals’ schedule, Kingsbury’s scheme, and a good shot at 120 targets, Kirk should be drafted as a strong flex option. His current WR41, late 9th-round ADP is a steal. There’s no real chance of Larry Fitzgerald maintaining his hold on the team-lead in targets this year. The slot receiver will have productive games from time to time but is more of a matchup-based daily fantasy option than a season long one. Deep field pass catcher Andy Isabella looked good in the minuscule work he saw as a rookie in 2019. He’s a prospective, talent-based end-of-draft dart throw.

Tight End

The only tight end of note is Maxx Williams, who dominated as a run blocker last year.

Kicker

Having a reliable kicker in your lineup every week has its benefits. The best thing to look for is a kicker on a high-scoring offense. Zane Gonzalez finished No. 5 in fantasy scoring last year. With the Cards’ offensive arrow pointing upward, we can expect another great season out of him in 2020.

Defense/Special Teams

The Cards’ D/ST is a streaming option in shootout games where Sacks and Turnovers will occur at a higher rate as opposing teams try to make things happen while trailing.