With head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer gone,
there’s a new era starting in Arizona and it begins with quarterback
Sam Bradford. Bradford signed a two-year, $40 million contract
before the team drafted Josh Rosen in April’s NFL Draft, with
$15 million guaranteed in year one. This contract almost certainly
means that he’ll be given the chance to start, but Rosen was considered
by many to be the most NFL-ready quarterback in what is believed
to be a strong class, so Bradford’s job is certainly not safe.
The last time we saw Bradford was Week 1 of the 2017 season when
he lit up a good Saints defense for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Then injury reared its ugly head - again - as Bradford suffered
a season-ending knee injury during the game. Bradford’s
injury history is lengthy to say the least and he’s one
of the few players who can truly be tagged as “injury prone”
given the location of the injuries as well as the type and severity.
With Arizona expected to have one of the worst offensive lines
in the league, it’s logical to question Bradford’s
ability to stay healthy. Add in the fact that the Cardinals invested
an early draft pick on Rosen and it seems very possible that we
could see Bradford holding a clipboard in the second half of the
season, particularly if the Cardinals’ record is subpar,
as most expect that it will be.
When he’s healthy, Bradford has been a solid fantasy producer,
but he’s only finished as a top-20 fantasy quarterback once
in his entire career. With the injury concerns as well as the
team makeup and rookie breathing down his neck, Bradford should
be one of the last “starting” quarterbacks drafted
in most fantasy drafts, but he does have DFS appeal in good matchups.
The No. 10 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen is believed
to be the future of the Arizona Cardinals franchise. The question,
at least for fantasy purposes, is when that future will begin
on the field. Of the quarterbacks drafted in April, one could
easily make the case that Rosen has stepped into the best position
to produce fantasy points this season. With only an injury-prone
and aging Sam Bradford ahead of him, Rosen has what appears to
be a realistic path to playing time in 2018. Add in the fact that
he’ll get to throw to a legend like Larry Fitzgerald, a perceived
stud rookie in Christian Kirk and a dynamic playmaking running
back in David Johnson and it’s easy to see why some believe that
Rosen will lead all rookie passers in fantasy points scored.
But while he might get on the field, there are also reasons to
be concerned about Rosen’s potential to actually be a viable
weekly fantasy starter, at least as a rookie. Most notably, the
Cardinals offensive line projects to be terrible. They haven’t
been great in a long while, but this might be the worst group
they’ve trotted out in many years. In addition, Rosen was
never a particularly prolific passer in college. While it’s
true that he didn’t play in an extremely friendly offense
for passing, Rosen threw fewer than two touchdowns per game throughout
his college career as a starter and threw nearly an interception
per game. It’s also worth considering that, like Bradford,
Rosen also has an injury history. Most notably, Rosen suffered
a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder as a sophomore
and he was also diagnosed with multiple concussions in college.
Both of those injuries are concerning for fantasy purposes - particularly
the concussions, as we know that concussions often repeat and
the NFL is taking serious steps to keep players off the field
if they are suffering from any effects of those concussions whatsoever.
Realistically, the Cardinals’ quarterback situation is
one to avoid for fantasy purposes, at least from a season-long
standpoint. The receiving group isn’t particularly strong,
the offensive line is terrible and we just don’t know who
is going to start and for how long.
One of the most exciting things about the 2018 season is that
we’re going to get to see the return of one of the league’s
best playmakers, David Johnson, who missed nearly the entire 2017
with a wrist injury. Most considered Johnson the fantasy MVP of
2016 as he scored 20 touchdowns while producing over 2,100 total
yards of offense.
While it’s never easy for fantasy owners to select a back
coming off of a season-ending injury, the nice thing about Johnson’s
injury is that it’s really not something that should affect
him going forward. Unlike a knee or ankle injury, which can have
dramatic effects on a player’s explosiveness, Johnson’s
wrist injury should be fully healed and he should be perfectly
healthy heading into 2018.
The last time we saw Johnson, in Week 1 of the 2017 season, he
had already produced 90 total yards of offense with six receptions
and that was only midway through the third quarter in a game that
the Cardinals were winning. Needless to say, given the nine targets
he had already seen in that game, the offense was run almost entirely
through Johnson. A new coaching staff does throw a wrench into
things from a play-calling perspective, but anyone who’s
watched Johnson play in the NFL can tell you that he is absolutely
one of the league’s best playmakers and would be a major
focal point in just about any offense. That shouldn’t change
much this season as the Cardinals will almost certainly lean on
Johnson heavily once again, both as a runner and as a receiver.
100-plus targets is actually a safe number to project for Johnson,
who saw 120 targets in 2016, and that kind of passing game usage
alone would make him a viable starter in PPR formats even if you
completely eliminated his rushing numbers.
Don’t look for Johnson to repeat his 20 touchdown season
from 2016 given that the Cardinals as a whole are expected to
be one of the league’s worst teams, but a double-digit touchdown
season is certainly realistic and Johnson, if he can avoid injury,
is one of the safest players in all of fantasy football and should
be a top five overall pick in all formats.
One of the more under-the-radar draft picks from a fantasy perspective
might end up being the Cardinals’ selection of Fordham running
back Chase Edmonds in the fourth round. Edmonds, who has drawn
comparisons to players like Dion Lewis and Matt Forte due to his
tremendous agility numbers, is a versatile playmaker who could
very well see some playing time as a way to keep Johnson healthy.
Edmonds likely won’t see significant enough playing time
to warrant weekly fantasy appeal but he is a nice complement to
Johnson and would have immediate and significant fantasy value
should Johnson suffer another injury this season. The only other
backs on the roster are lackluster names like Elijhaa Penny, D.J.
Foster and T.J. Logan who really don’t offer much upside,
so Edmonds is the one to own if you’re planning on “handcuffing”
Johnson in your fantasy draft.
Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who will
be 35 years old heading into the 2018 season, is coming off of
three straight 100-catch seasons. Fitzgerald has a great connection
with fellow veteran quarterback Carson Palmer who started all
but one game in 2015 and 2016 alongside Fitzgerald. However, Fitzgerald
continued to produce in 2017 even with a dumpster fire of quarterbacks
after Palmer went down with an injury. In the final nine games
of the 2017 season, with the likes of Drew Stanton and Blaine
Gabbert behind center, Fitzgerald saw five games with 8 or more
receptions and he never had fewer than three catches in a game.
This essentially proved, once again, that Fitzgerald remains essentially
quarterback-proof even in his advanced age.
This season should be a better quarterback situation for Fitzgerald
at least from a talent perspective. The team is expected to begin
with veteran Sam Bradford behind center, who profiles as practically
the perfect match for a player like Fitzgerald. Bradford ranked
34th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in percentage of down-field
pass attempts in 2015 for the Eagles and was again near the bottom
of the league for the Vikings in 2016. This bodes well for Fitzgerald,
who has transitioned into one of the leagues’ most reliable
and dominant slot receivers in his elder years.
There is some concern for Fitzgerald that the new Cardinals offense
might not feature him quite as heavily as we’ve seen in
recent seasons under Bruce Arians, but offensive coordinator Mike
McCoy is a veteran, who typically molds his offense around getting
the ball in the hands of his best playmakers. For the Cardinals,
that’s Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson. Age is
obviously a bit of a worry but Fitz has proven to be one of the
most durable wide receivers in the history of the game, having
missed just eight games in his 14-year NFL career. He might not
present the upside that he once did, but Fitzgerald is an extraordinarily
reliable WR2 in fantasy and could make for one of the best value
picks given his relatively low ADP.
Second-round draft pick Christian Kirk is believed to be the
heir-apparent in the slot for veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Kirk dominated the SEC, catching 70 or more passes in each of
his three seasons at Texas A&M, despite playing alongside
second-rate talent at the quarterback position.
The concern for Kirk’s immediate fantasy value is that,
while he projects to be a great slot receiver, he is not likely
to pry away many of those snaps from Fitzgerald. That means that
he’ll have to fight to get on the field as an outside receiver
first. Thankfully for him, the Cardinals’ roster is relatively
weak from a talent perspective and only J.J. Nelson has played
significant snaps outside in Arizona in recent seasons, but Kirk
is still a rookie who will likely split work with others to start
One additional area that is intriguing with Kirk is his prowess
as a return specialist. Kirk’s total of seven punt and one
kickoff return for a touchdown in his three seasons at Texas A&M
is impressive and shows that he has the vision and athleticism
to make plays after the catch. If Kirk can earn additional work
as a return man in Arizona, he could present some significant
additional value to those in return yardage formats; or even in
standard formats if he can score a couple of times.
Kirk is currently going undrafted in many leagues so he presents
some interesting PPR upside as a potential starter in the Arizona
offense, but his real value will be unlocked down the road when
he eventually takes over for Fitzgerald in the slot.
The Cardinals lost both Jaron Brown and John Brown this offseason
which has opened the doors for playing time to other players,
particularly J.J. Nelson and the newly acquired Brice Butler.
While Nelson has experience playing three years in Arizona, he
enters a completely new offense under a new coaching staff this
season and really doesn’t have much of a leg up on the rest
of the competition. That’s why the smart money is actually
on Butler to emerge as the team’s third option, playing
on the outside.
At 6’3” and 220 lbs, Butler simply profiles as a
more traditional and durable outside receiver. His tremendous
size-adjusted speed scores also play a big part in why he has
such impressive per-catch numbers in Dallas at 18.5 yards per
reception. The problem with Butler is that he’ll be 29 years
old this season and it’s just not often that players break
out at this late in their careers. But given the 160-lb frame
of Nelson and the lack of snaps that 2017 rookie Chad Williams
saw, it seems most likely that Butler will lead that group in
total snaps this season. If he’s given the opportunity,
Butler could produce some serious splash games, but don’t
look for much consistency out of him. He’s better suited
for DFS formats against inferior secondaries in games where the
Cardinals are likely to deploy a pass-heavy approach.
A college wide receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones transitioned to tight
end after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals
in 2017. While he only caught 12 passes and played limited snaps
overall as a rookie, Seals-Jones flashed playmaking ability as
a pass catcher and could see a significant uptick in work early
in the season, especially if Jermaine Gresham starts the season
on the PUP list after he tore his Achilles’ in Week 17 of
the 2017 season.
At 6’5” and 245 lbs, Seals-Jones is built to be a
pass-catcher and that’s something the Cardinals have not
had in a long time at the tight end position. Sam Bradford has
had success throwing to tight ends in the past and prefers to
make plays over the middle of the field versus going outside,
so keep an eye on the number of targets that Seals-Jones sees
early in the year. He might be a smart waiver-wire add as the
season goes on. He’s not a player who should be selected
in standard leagues that start one tight end but he is at least
somewhat intriguing in deeper leagues, particularly those which
start two tight ends.