2014 Draft Prep: Have faith in Cardinals offense
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You would think I'm from Phoenix or have been rooting for Larry Centers and Aeneas Williams from childhood based on how much I hype the Cardinals. I just love this offense.
You will love it, too.
The Cardinals have three must-start Fantasy options in Andre Ellington , Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd . Carson Palmer is a sleeper quarterback, rookie John Brown is a sleeper receiver and either Jonathan Dwyer or Stepfan Taylor could play a role for owners at some point this season.
Coach Bruce Arians should allow the Cardinals to put up a lot of points, which will help Fantasy owners if you're willing to buy in. We saw flashes of what this offense could do toward the end of last season, but this year could bring plenty of rewards.
We'll start with Palmer. He might seem old at 34, but he's coming off a career season in 2013, his first under Arians. Palmer passed for a career-high 4,274 yards on 63 percent completions with 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, which were also a career high.
Interceptions come with an Arians offense -- Andrew Luck had 18 as a rookie in 2012 when Arians was with the Colts -- but this is a volume passing attack. Palmer attempted 572 passes last season, which was 10th in the NFL. You can count on 600-plus attempts if he stays healthy in 2014.
We saw Palmer start to grasp Arians' offense after Arizona's bye in Week 9. In his final eight games, Palmer had four outings with at least 24 Fantasy points, four games with at least 300 passing yards and five games with multiple touchdowns.
Now he's got a full offseason to master the offense and he could be this year's version of Philip Rivers as a veteran quarterback you draft late but surprises as a top-10 option. I plan to target him with a late-round pick in all leagues.
One of his main weapons will be Ellington, who I consider one of the best breakout candidates this season. He was the No. 24 Fantasy running back in standard leagues as a rookie in 2013 despite playing behind Rashard Mendenhall , who has retired.
Ellington had 118 carries for 652 yards and three touchdowns and 39 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. Arians plans to use Ellington like a workhorse -- 20-25 touches are a possibility -- and the one area he could lose out is goal-line carries, which is where Dwyer and Taylor come in.
But Ellington has star potential. His 5.5 yards per carry led the NFL among running backs with at least 100 carries and he had 9.5 yards per catch. The upside is endless and he's worth drafting in Round 3 in standard leagues and Round 2 in PPR formats. He's one of my favorite players this year.
Another favorite is Floyd. He's entering his third season, which is when receivers have the chance for a breakout campaign, and Floyd is trending in the right direction.
He was solid in 2013 with 65 catches for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, and he posted nine games with at least eight Fantasy points, including four with double digits. But there's still room for improvement, and he could easily be a top-15 Fantasy receiver this season -- he was No. 24 last year.
There are some in Arizona who believe Floyd is better than Fitzgerald, but we're not ready to go there yet. The good news is you can draft Floyd in Round 4 or 5, and he might easily eclipse that value.
Fitzgerald showed last season he's not done yet with 82 catches for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns, which was his first time scoring in double digits since 2009. But he now has consecutive seasons with fewer than 1,000 yards, and he's gone three years in a row with less than 90 catches.
Here's a stat to love, however. He led all receivers in red-zone targets with 24 and he should again remain involved near the end zone. Floyd only had 14 red-zone targets last year. In the first preseason game against Houston, Fitzgerald scored on a 7-yard touchdown.
You don't have to reach for Fitzgerald this season, but you can let him fall to you in Round 4. There's still plenty of upside for him in this offense and he should again finish as a top-20 Fantasy receiver.
Brown is a receiver to monitor this season. The Cardinals like the rookie from Pittsburg State and he could emerge as the No. 3 receiver behind Fitzgerald and Floyd. Brown has done well this preseason with 10 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown.
He's not worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but he is someone to potentially use during the season as a bye-week or injury replacement if he continues to play like he's shown in the preseason.
Dwyer and Taylor will compete for the goal-line and short-yardage role behind Ellington and the winner could be a good source of touchdowns. Mendenhall had eight touchdowns last seaso and the Cardinals don't seem inclined to use Ellington in that role.
So far, Dwyer has done a better job than Taylor, including a rushing touchdown in the second preseason game against Minnesota. We wouldn't draft either guy, but this is a position to monitor, especially if Ellington were to get hurt.
Fantasy owners afraid of the Cardinals will point to their division with matchups against San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis, but Arizona scored at least 20 points against those teams in five of six meetings. The lone time the Cardinals were under 20 points was the surprise 17-10 win at Seattle in Week 16.
The offensive line is also brought up, but Arizona should be improved with the addition of new left tackle Jared Veldheer . As an example, Palmer wasn't sacked in the third preseason game against the Bengals, who have a stout pass rush.
And with a defense missing Daryl Washington , Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett , the offense could be in more shootouts, which is obviously a positive for Fantasy owners.
So shy away from the Cardinals if you want, but I'm all in. This is going to be an explosive year in the desert, and Arizona will be a team full of Fantasy fun.