ArizonaCardinalsArizona Cardinals (11-5)

Written by: Bill Cervi (@wcervi)

Coaching Changes:

Head Coach: Bruce Arians (Retained)

Ofensive Coordinator: Harold Goodwin (Retained)

Defensive Coordinator: James Bettcher (New)

Todd Bowles became the second Defensive Coordinator to leave the Cardinals in as many years when he accepted the head coach position for the New York Jets earlier this year. The Cardinals replaced him with former linebacker coach James Bettcher, who is a little green by NFL standards with only 3 years of NFL coaching experience. Bettcher coached the Arizona (outside)linebacker corps for 2 years and he spent 1 year as a special assistant to the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Bruce Arians was looking to maintain consistency from last year’s #6 overall rated defense so that is why he gave the nod to a relative new comer to the NFL. I expect that the Cardinals defense will not miss a beat and in fact, should only improve as the team has key players returning to full health and back from suspension.

Key Free agents:

TE Rob Housler

2014 Stats: 17 Targets, 9 RECs, 52.9% catch rate, 129 YDS, 14.3 YPC, 0 TD

Age:  26 years old

Rob Housler has been an intriguing dynasty prospect ever since he was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round (3.5) of the 2011 draft. He had his best year in 2012 when he recorded 45 receptions for 457 yards, but his 2014 season was the worst of his 4 year career. Housler played on only 30% of the Cardinal’s snaps last year and his catch rate dropped to a measly 53%. Housler will never be a strong in-line TE, but he does have good speed and he can definitely stretch a defense running seam routes, so a fresh start may be just what he needs at this point. I am not suggesting that you run out and grab him, however I would keep an eye on where he lands this off-season.

Other Free Agents: QB Ryan Lindley, RB Jonathan Dwyer, RG Paul Fanaika, DT Dan Williams, DT Tommy Kelly, DT Alameda Ta’amu, OLB Sam Acho, ILB Larry Foote, CB Antonio Cromartie

Review/Preview of Fantasy relevant players:

QB Carson Palmer

2014 Stats: 141 completions, 62.9% CMP Rate, 1,626 PYDS, 11 PTD, 3 INT, 25 RYDS, 0 RTD

Age/Contract status:  35 years old / Signed through the 2018 season

Carson Palmer

Can Palmer return from injury and lead the Cards to the Playoffs?

The Cardinals looked like they were going to make a run at the playoffs mid way through the season, but Carson Palmer tore the ACL in his left knee (week 10) and the team was forced to play a trio of sub-par QBs who struggled mightily to provide any type of offensive consistency down the stretch. Palmer ended up starting 6 games and played fairly well averaging 271 yards per game, almost 2 TDs, and he also reduced his interceptions significantly throwing only 3 INTs in 224 attempts. If you project those numbers out for a full season, he would have thrown for 4,300 yards, 29 Tds, and only 8 INTs. Taking those numbers into consideration, I think there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Palmer’s return to fantasy relevance. First the Cardinals are heavily invested in him since he signed a 3 year 50 million dollar extension just days before his injury. Secondly, assuming he fully recovers by the start of training camp, (he is doing well in rehab) he will be in his second year in Bruce Arian’s vertical offense and he will have some quality WRs to work with. Palmer will be 36 years old this season and while he may never be a top 5 QB again I think he is more than capable of being part of a streaming QB tandem or at least a solid back up for the next 1-2 years.

QB Logan Thomas

2014 Stats: 1 completion, 11 % CMP rate, 81 PYDS, 1 PTD, 0 INT, 0 RYDS, 0 RTD

Age/Contract status:  23 years old / Signed through the 2017 season

When the Cardinals drafted QB Logan Thomas in the 4th round of last year’s draft (4.20) they knew that they had a long term project on their hands. The Virginia Tech product showed great promise early in his collegiate career and he was once considered Mel Kipper’s number 1 college QB prospect. Unfortunately, Thomas struggled with consistency and accuracy in his junior and senior years and by the time he left school many scouts doubted his ability to play at the next level. His 2014 production did not do anything to allay those fears as Thomas looked overwhelmed in his only action against the Broncos in week 5. Thomas completed only 1 of his 8 passes for 81 yards and a TD. The TD was actually the result of a poorly thrown ball, bad coverage by Denver LB Nate Irving, and a nice run after the catch by RB Andre Ellington. Thomas should have another 1-2 years to develop as long as Carson Palmer can stay healthy. If given that time, there is hope that he can improve his core skills enough to become a NFL starter, but many including myself, feel that accuracy can not be taught and Thomas really struggles in that part of his game.

RB Andre Ellington

2014 Stats: 201 carries, 660 YDS, 3.3 YPC, 3 TDs, 64 Targets, 46 REC, 395 YDS, 2 TDs

Age/Contract status:  26 years old / Signed through the 2016 season.

andre ellington 2

The team has asked Ellington to add some bulk, will they draft another RB?

If you believed Bruce Arian’s preseason hype, Andre Ellington was going to touch the ball 400+ times in the 2014 season. The reality was obviously less than that, but Ellington still carried a heavy work load, especially when you consider he suffered a partially torn tendon in his foot prior to week one. Ellington played in thirteen games last season, averaged over 15 pts. a game (PPR), recorded career highs in yardage and number of carries, and finished as the number 17 RB despite missing essentially the last 5 games of the year due to a sports hernia. The one statistic that stands out to me was the significant decline in his yards per carry which plummeted from 5.7 to 3.3 YPC. While certainly a concerning statistic, I do not think that we should give it as much weight as one would think due to the injury he played through and the complete lack of consistency at the QB position. Heading into the 2015 season there is reason for both optimism and concern regarding Eliington. The optimism is based on the recent news that Ellington is fully recovered from the sports hernia and his foot did not require surgery in the off season. Also head coach Bruce Arians recently commented that Ellington would still be the focus point of the offense. The concern I have (although minor) is the reality that the Cardinals will add some RB depth in the draft or free agency. That said, I still see Ellington as a solid #2 RB even if his work load is reduced and he loses goal line duties.

RB Kerwynn Williams

2014 Stats: 36 carries, 179 YDS, 4.97 YPC, 0 TDs, 5 Targets, 2 REC, 11 YDS, 0 TDs

Age/Contract status:  23 years old / Signed through the 2015 season

Kerwynn Williams had an interesting path to the Cardinals starting RB role in 2014. He started the season on the practice squad, was released at one point and then ascended to the starting role in week 14 after Ellington went down and Stepfan Taylor disappointed. He is not the biggest back at just under 200 pounds, but he runs hard between the tackles and he is a good receiver out of the backfield. The problem with Williams long term value is that he is essentially the same type of back as Ellington and the Cards may look to add a larger RB to mix in a RBBC with Ellington.

RBs Stepfan Taylor and Marion Grice

Stepfan Taylor has been a disappointment since entering the league in 2013 (pick 5.7), despite having significant opportunities to carve out a role in the Cards running game. His 2014 numbers included 63 carries for 218 yards, he caught 11 of his 15 targets for 79 yards, and he scored 4 total TDs. The Cardinals should improve their RB depth in the draft and free agency so Taylor may be fighting for a roster spot in 2015.

Marion Grice was a 6th round pick of the San Diego Chargers last year (6.25) and the Cardinals nabbed him of their practice squad later in the year. He finished the season with 15 carries for 41 yards, 7 catches for 29 yards and scored 1 TD. Grice will be in a battle for a roster spot this year and his fantasy upside seems limited at this point.

WR Larry Fitzgerald

2014 Stats: 103 Targets, 63 RECs, 61.1% catch rate,784 YDS, 12.4 YPC, 2 TDs

Age/Contract status:  31 years old / Signed through the 2018 season

larry fitzgerald

Fitz is back in Arizona and he will retire a Cardinal thanks to the no trade clause in his contract.

Larry Fitzgerald’s 2014 season was his second worst since he entered the league in 2004 and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Fitzgerald is scheduled to count a whopping 23 million dollars against the cap this season and although it is unlikely, a release would free up over 9 million dollars in cap money and if they could find a trade partner they would gain over 16 million in cap relief. The team recently began talks with his agent and both sides seem very interested in coming to terms, but team President Michael Bidwell recently told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that “it takes two to get a deal done”. Personally I am not looking at the comments as anything more than contract gamesmanship and I think a long term deal is in the best interest of both parties. Assuming he is re-signed, Fitzgerald should rebound this year as injuries to himself and Ellington affected his play and the revolving door of inferior QBs took its toll as well. His current value is as low as it has ever been right now, but I think Fitz has 1-2 more years of FF relevant production as a #3 WR with WR # 2 upside. Update: Larry Fitzgerald signed a two year contract on 2/18/15 that pays him 11 million per year and frees up 13 million in cap space for the Cardinals this year. This was a class act by Fitzgerald. He took a 5 million dollar pay cut to help his cap strapped team, but I would expect nothing less from one of the NFL’s best players on and off the field.

WR Michael Floyd

2014 Stats: 99 Targets, 47 RECs, 47.5% catch rate, 841 YDS, 17.9 YPC, 6 TDs

Age/Contract status:  25 years old / Signed through the 2015 season.

Michael Floyd 2

Will better QB play lead to the breakout we expected from Floyd last year?

Michael Floyd’s 2014 production would have to land him on a short list of the most disappointing fantasy performances of the season. He regressed in almost every single statistical category except for TDs and yards per catch, and he finished as the #45 overall WR in PPR leagues. As bad as that sounds, his season was actually worse than his numbers represent because he had almost 25% of his total production in week 17, when he caught 8 passes for 153 yards and 2 TDs. His disappointing season is not all his fault however, as the revolving door of QBs and injuries to Fitz and Ellington did little to help his stats. Floyd has a lot to prove to his team mates and fantasy owners this year, as well as a lot to play for since he will be a free agent at the end of the season. I am still bullish on Floyd’s long term value and I think he is a fantastic “buy low” right now. Yes he needs to cut down on the dropped passes (5 in 2014) and improve his route running/field awareness, but the talent is there and it should begin to show sooner rather than later. If Palmer can stay healthy for a full season and the team is able to run the ball with some consistency, I think we will see the break out year we expected from Floyd last year.

WR John Brown

2014 Stats: 102 Targets, 48 RECs, 47 % catch rate, 696 YDS, 14.5 YPC, 3 TDs

Age/Contract status:  24 years old / Signed through the 2017 season

One of the bright spots from the Cardinal’s 2014 season was the play of rookie third round pick (3.27) WR John Brown. In fact, he played so well that he actually started to live up to the bold comparisons to another Bruce Arians’ third round pick, T.Y. Hilton. Brown played 678 snaps for the Cardinals in 2014, with almost 50% of them coming out of the slot, where he was very effective and he showed some clutch ability with several game winning catches during the 2014 season. Brown’s long term dynasty prospects are very good in my opinion, especially if he can increase his catch rate and targets. The way I see it is, even if Fitz restructures and Floyd plays well enough to be resigned, Brown still showed enough ability to warrant consideration as a #2 WR in a year or two (like the aforementioned T.Y. Hilton) when Fitz retires.

WR Jaron Brown

2014 Stats: 32 Targets, 22 RECs, 68.8% catch rate, 229 YDS, 10.4 YPC, 2 TDs

Age/Contract status: 25 years old / Signed through the 2015 season

Jaron Brown had a fairly solid overall 2014 season as he increased his numbers across the board from his rookie year. Jaron Brown has much better size than John Brown so he is a player I am definitely going to keep my eye on in the coming months. Should negotiations with Fitz go south, Brown may be in line for a sharp increase in snaps  and production (assuming they do not add a WR in FA or the draft). Even if he is buried on their depth chart for the entire 2015 season he is a free agent at the end of the year and he may find a fantasy relevant role on another team. If you are in a very deep dynasty league, Brown is a nice stash and hope prospect for at least the next 1-2 years.

TE Troy Niklas

2014 Stats: 3 Targets, 3 RECs, 100% catch rate, 38 YDS, 12.4 YPC, 0 TD

Age/Contract status:  22 years old / Signed through the 2017 season

The Cardinals drafted Troy Niklas with the 20th pick, in the second round, of the 2014 draft. Niklas is a still learning the TE position, but he is a good athlete, he has sound blocking fundamentals that allow him to be lined up as an in line TE, and enough speed to line up in the slot. Sadly, injuries derailed his 2014 season. He broke his hand in the preseason and then suffered multiple ankle injuries which eventually led to him being placed on IR in week 12. His expected main competition in 2015 will be John Carlson who is a back up at best. If Niklas can make progress in OTAs and camp, he may emerge as the team’s starting TE. The bad news is that the Cardinals are historically one of the worst teams in the NFL for TEs and if 2014 was any indication of how the Cards will use their TEs, Niklas’s upside is very limited.

To see other completed team reviews please click on the team name below.

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49’ers, Arizona Cardinals, St Louis Rams