Raise your hand if you’re suffering from NFL Draft analysis paralysis. Yea, me too. We’re well into lying season up until the draft, so rather than inducing a migraine by trying to see through the smokescreens and sifting through a dozen competing evaluations on each player, why don’t we dive into team offense evaluations from a dynasty standpoint. Really, the future projections for these prospects are significantly incomplete until a huge piece of the puzzle, you know, what organization is employing them, is decided. The impact of which offense drafts our favorite prospect should not be understated. This is why I typically tip the scales in favor of young players in stable, high-powered offenses, with talent around them like Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Thomas. This is the first article in a series of in-depth team-specific pieces. Is this a team featuring fantasy football assets that you should be buying or a team with assets that you should be generally selling?
Team in Transition: Arizona Cardinals
Any Bears fan will tell you the fortunes of two franchises were altered the day the Bears hired Marc Trestman over Bruce Arians in 2013. The Cardinals nabbed a no-nonsense old-school coach with a penchant for cursing and an offense well suited for this era of high octane passing attacks. The results were immediate as the Cardinals’ offensive DVOA improved from dead last in 2012 to 15th in Arians’ first year as coach. The Cardinals took a step back in 2014 due to an injury to Carson Palmer, finishing 24th, but then rebounded in a big way finishing 5th in 2015. Those who went all-in on the Cardinals in 2016 were a little disappointed to see an end to that upward trend in the Cardinals’ offense, as they finished 18th in DVOA. Obviously David Johnson is a cyborg and was easily the Cardinals offensive MVP in 2016. Case in point, the Cardinals rushing attack ranked 14th in DVOA compared to 27th for the passing attack in 2016.
That brings us to one Carson Hilton Palmer and the Cardinals’ quarterback situation which is the crux of my anxiety surrounding this team. I began my research for this article with the assumption that this became David Johnson’s offense in 2016. Not exactly. I assumed the Cardinals became more reliant on the run than they had in the past which simply isn’t true. In fact, the 2016 Cardinals actually attempted the most passes in Arians’ tenure as coach by almost 100 attempts but despite that fact, Carson Palmer’s production fell off a cliff. Just look at his completion percentage numbers: No. 23 in completion percentage, No. 21 in red zone completion percentage, and No. 33 in completion percentage when pressured.
Outside his injury-marred 2014 campaign, he completed the fewest passes over 20 yards and had his lowest yards per completion as a Cardinal. Granted, part of the problem was the Cardinals’ porous offensive line, as only four quarterbacks were sacked more than Carson Palmer and he even missed a game. The Cardinals did nothing to address this in free agency so here’s hoping they bolster the line through the draft. This also could have been the biggest reason why David Johnson ranked 2nd among running backs in targets per game, which also would then have contributed to Palmer’s low yards per completion.
The question becomes, did the Cardinals become David Johnson’s team out of necessity due to their offensive line or because Carson Palmer’s injuries caught up with him and he got trucked by Father Time? It is a little of each with a bit of Johnson’s brilliance sprinkled in, which leads me to think this is an incredibly important draft for Arians and the Cardinals. I know, that’s a real hot take. There is still a window where the Cardinals can capitalize on the Palmer-Fitzgerald era while he they both have something left in the tank, if Arians believes Palmer actually has something left. If so, I would hope they draft offensive line early and often. However, even if they bolster their offensive line there is still the subject of the future of the quarterback position.
The Cardinals have been rumored to be a potential 1st round landing spot for both Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer. Arians recently said he sees as many as six starting quarterbacks in this draft. That’s pretty optimistic compared with most scouting evaluations I’ve read, but If Arians truly believes this it appears he’d be fine waiting until the middle rounds of the draft to nab his future quarterback. Can they draft, let’s say, offensive tackle Garrett Bolles in the 1st round and still land Kizer round 2, who many now think could slide?
There’s still a lot to like with Johnson, Nelson, and Brown but with uncertainty at quarterback, offensive line, and wide receiver I’m in a holding pattern with the Cardinals’ skill position players from a dynasty standpoint. What the Cardinals do in this draft will dictate how I proceed.
Speaking of the passing attack, I don’t think enough good things can be written about Larry Fitzgerald, both the person and the football player. However, from a dynasty perspective I have to be looking to get something in return for him after leading the league in receptions in 2016 by posting his 2nd consecutive 100 reception season. He’s nearing the end of a spectacular career and the Cardinals don’t have a replacement currently on the roster or the locker room. What does that receiving core look like when he and his dreads ride off into the sunset? The melodrama surrounding Michael Floyd leading to his release opened up room for Nelson on the outside. There’s a lot to like about J.J. Nelson and also John Brown, but based on their current ADPs Nelson looks like he’s the one who will provide value.
J.J. Nelson took a big step forward, catching 4 touchdowns in his last five games. Oh, and he also ranked No. 2 in Target Distance and No. 14 in Fantasy Points Per Snap according to PlayerProfiler.com. As long as Brown truly has his sickle cell issue under control I would hold onto him but what role does he fill when Larry Fitzgerald is gone? Does he remain outside or does Arians move him into the slot to fill Fitzgerald’s role? He may excel there but he’s so damn explosive on the outside and a great fit in Arians’ scheme. Once an area of strength, the Cardinals wide receivers provide an area of uncertainty moving forward.
We really don’t need to spend a whole lot of time on David Johnson, I mean, did you watch him play in 2016 at all? Johnson amassed 1,200 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground, adding 80 receptions (most among running backs) for nearly 900 yards and 4 more touchdowns through the air. He’s the #1 overall pick in any format this year for me.
He’s a rare workhorse running back who is also active in the passing game. I hate using the word ‘safe’ to discuss any football player but he’s the exception. Moving on.
Jermaine Gresham isn’t someone you’re going to draft in a dynasty format, or really any format, but the Cardinals resigned him to a 4 year $28 million contract this offseason. If you’re a David Johnson owner this is fantastic news as Gresham is among the best run blocking tight ends in the league.