The Arizona Cardinals Are All Values In Fantasy Football

by Joshua Kellem · Fantasy Football

Entering 2021, the Cardinals offense is coming off consecutive seasons ranking in the top four in situation-neutral pace. The offense ranked No. 1 last season. The Cardinals ranked No. 3 in plays per game, No. 14 in Football Outsiders‘ Pass DVOA, and No. 17 in Run DVOA. And those numbers are skewed by Kyler Murray playing through injury Weeks 11-17.

Simply put, playing fast leads to more plays. And more plays lead to more fantasy points. With PlayerProfiler only projecting the Cowboys and Chargers to have more combined carries and pass attempts in 2021, all of Arizona’s offensive weapons are values in fantasy football.

The Engine

Kyler Murray finished last season as fantasy football’s QB3 on a points-per-game basis. But from Weeks 1-10, he was fantasy football’s QB1, averaging just over 30 points per game. For context, the next best QB, Russell Wilson, averaged 27.56 points in that time. In fact, Murray averaged almost six more points per game than the QB5. And he averaged over 10 more points per game than QB10. Then, Week 11 against the Seahawks happened. Murray got crushed on the second drive of Thursday Night Football by L.J. Collier and Carlos Dunlap. From Weeks 11-17, he averaged just over 17 points per game, ranking No. 15 among qualified QBs. We can’t predict injury, but we can predict that Murray will brutally beat his QB4 ADP (per Underdog Fantasy) and contend for QB1 this season.

In consecutive seasons, the Cardinals have averaged 37.8 Team Pass Plays per Game. Murray’s carries per game jumped from 5.8 in 2019 to 8.3 last season, his per-game rushing yards jumped from 34 to 51.2, and his touchdowns jumped from 4 to 11. Explaining the touchdown jump is his Green Zone carries doubling from 7 to 14, with 9-of-11 rushing touchdowns coming from within 10 yards. While the team averaged 29.9 (No. 6) Team Run Plays Per Game last season, because of the number of plays per game, he’s a rare dual-threat Konami code QB that will rival 600 pass attempts.

For context, Murray was the only signal-caller ranking top seven in both carries and pass attempts per game. That’s important because 40 rushing yards is four fantasy points, as opposed to 100 passing yards equating four points.

In 2019, when the Cardinals ranked in the bottom half of the league in Team Run Plays per Game, Murray still ranked top three in carries per game. The problem was the Cardinals played fast, but inefficiently. That’s backed by Murray’s -1.90 (No. 20) Supporting Cast Efficiency rating and a lowly 62.5 (No. 19) Team Plays Per Game. Though acquiring DeAndre Hopkins explains the jump to a +2.96 (No. 15) Supporting Cast Efficiency mark.


The Wide Receiver Core

Basically, the Cardinals executed their intended offensive philosophy more effectively in Year 2. And there’s no reason to believe they’re slowing down with DeAndre Hopkins in his second season with the team. Christian Kirk moves to his natural slot position as well. Then, there’s second-round rookie Rondale Moore coming in. James Conner replaces Kenyan Drake, which could lead to more passing for Kyler Murray, but still the same Green Zone opportunities to score rushing touchdowns.

Betting on Murray’s upside, and him finishing as THE QB1 in fantasy football, is a bet on Kliff Kingsbury to get creative with Hopkins’ route tree, as opposed to 10 bubble screens per game. That said, the Cardinals offense boasts 156 vacated targets, or 28.6-percent. Larry Fitzgerald, one of the departed pass-catchers, recorded 172 (No. 67) yards after catch, hauling in short, middle-of-the-field targets last season with no YAC threat. Basically, where he caught the ball is where the play ended. Kirk and Moore will change that. Moore brings to the Cardinals offense his 99th-percentile Breakout Age, while Kirk totaled 259 (No. 32) yards after catch in 2019 on an 8.3 target-per-game average. In fact, Kliff Kingsbury said last month he’ll manufacture touches for Moore. Basically, both receivers will make the offense more efficient.

In the case of Hopkins’ route tree, admittedly, it’s a case of wishful thinking that Kliff Kingsbury will get more creative than drawing up 10 bubble screens per game. But it’s not all bad. Manufacturing touches for Hopkins last season led him totaling 160 (No. 2) targets.

Even with an 8.8 (No. 79) Average Target Distance, Hopkins totaled 1,403 (No. 10) Air Yards with a 32.1-percent (No. 22) Air Yards Share.

For context, Murray totaled 4,292 (No. 10) Air Yards at 7.7 (No. 20) Air Yards Per Attempt, with 70 (No. 5) Deep Ball Attempts. If Hopkins can unlock the vertical part of his game, he’ll be in the mix as fantasy football’s WR1 on a points-per-game basis. But he’ll also get there by converting more touchdowns. Hopkins tied for the ninth-most Green Zone targets last season (10), but he caught just five and scored only twice.

With Drake vacating a league-leading 35 Green Zone carries, Hopkins has the chance for more Green Zone targets as well. Translation: there’s a lot of meat on the bone portending to Hopkins’ upside. Still efficient with a 2.37 (No. 10) Yards Per Route Run clip, and 547 (No. 2) yards after catch, you can do worse than stacking Murray and Hopkins in redraft. Then, grab the auxiliary pieces in Kirk and Moore in the double-digit rounds.

The RB Room

James Conner is the poster boy for Zero RB drafters this season. And he played better than #fantasyfootball Twitter’s perception last season. From Weeks 1-11, he was RB16 (minimum seven games played) on a points-per-game basis, averaging 13.4 Fantasy Points Per Game before catching COVID. He had three 100-yard games on the ground, and an additional two with 80-plus rushing yards. He had 15-plus carries in six consecutive games, hitting 13 in two others. His numbers: 145 carries for 645 yards and five touchdowns (4.4 YPC). This would be an opportunity of 14.5 carries per game.

In the same span, Conner commanded four-plus targets in 6-of-10 games, including a 100-percent Catch Rate in seven of them. His numbers: 25 receptions on 30 targets for 145 receiving yards (5.8 YPR). This would be an opportunity of three targets per game. Combining Conner’s per-game numbers in carries and receptions, you get 17 touches per game. I’m under the impression that COVID, like with Cam Newton, slowed Conner down. He missed three games after Week 11, totaling 11-plus touches just twice in a possible three games after returning.

Now reunited with his former RBs coach, who guided him to his best season in 2018, Conner steps into Kenyan Drake‘s role that included a league-leading 35 Green Zone carries, even with Kyler Murray being a dual-threat.

Conner had 14 such attempts last season in 13 games. Drake’s fantasy value was buoyed by touchdowns, so Conner can be fantasy-relevant even with no receiving role and is worth a pick at ADP. His three targets per game from Weeks 1-11 is below Chase Edmonds 4.2 targets per game. But Conner’s 81.4-percent (No. 10) Catch Rate bested Edmonds’ 77.9-percent (No. 18) Catch Rate. Both backs averaged 18.0 routes run per game and lined up in the slot a little bit as well. Basically, their pass-catching usage is interchangeable, with a lean toward Conner for Green Zone carries.

Speaking of Edmonds, he is another RB to add to the list of pass-catching RBs to target if you punt on RB2. He is essentially a Modified Zero RB target.

In Drake’s absence in Week 9 of last season, Edmonds totaled a 100.0-percent Snap Share and 28 touches (25 Carries, three Receptions). He totaled 31 routes run and three targets. Edmonds parlayed the opportunity into 88 total yards and a top-24 weekly finish. When Drake was out, Edmonds simply ran more routes, so he should occupy most of Drake’s per-game receiving production. Given that earning targets is a skill, the additional 14.5 routes run per game opens the door for Edmonds to increase his targets-per-game average. Basically, these two can coexist in the sense that Edmonds’ RB2 value is propped up by his receiving production. A target is three times more valuable than a carry. And Conner’s RB2 value is buoyed by touchdowns

What About A.J. Green?

A.J. Green totaled 6.5 targets per game on a Bengals team averaging 39.3 (No. 11) Team Pass Plays Per Game last season. He totaled 25 (No. 7) Deep Ball Targets with a 13.2 (No. 23) Average Target Distance clip. He totaled 1,376 (No. 12) Air Yards with a 29.6-percent (No. 32) Air Yards Share. Basically, he was in a vertical role. That said, he totaled averaged 7.0 (No. 88) Fantasy Points Per Game. And his 1.03 (No. 99) Yards Per Route Run clip leads up to believe he’s cooked for fantasy football purposes. Toward the end of the season, he ran “empty routes.” Basically, he cleared space for the other pass-catchers and wasn’t targeted. He totaled seven Green Zone targets, converting two for touchdowns. Green is all but certain to face single coverage this season, though. Draft him at your own discretion. We 0/10 recommend.