For the second season in a row the Cardinals suffered a second-half swoon, and though they made the playoffs, it feels like they've stalled out in their development. There's a lot of pressure on coach Kliff Kingsbury with Kyler Murray agitating for a new contract, and if they don't make the leap to legitimate contender this season, there could be changes in store.
Record: 11 - 6 (7)
PPG: 26.4 (11)
YPG: 373.6 (8)
Pass YPG: 251.5 (10)
Rush YPG: 122.1 (10)
PAPG: 34.8 (18)
RAPG: 29.2 (7)
2020 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 22.7
Murray averaged 22.7 points per game in six-point-per-pass-TD scoring following his return from a three-game absence due to an ankle injury in Week 13, down from 26.5 prior to the injury. However, the dropoff was even more pronounced than that, as he had more than 20 points in three of six games, and only two games with more than 25.
That's the second season in a row where we've seen a significant drop in production from Murray in the second half. In 2020, it came after a shoulder injury in Week 11, when he went from averaging 31.3 points to 18.2 over the final six games. Now, the fact that injuries coincided with those swoons is an extenuating circumstance for sure -- Murray looks like an elite Fantasy QB when he's healthy. But it's fair to wonder if he can hold up to playing the position for a full season while being a high-level rushing threat -- and he doesn't have the same upside if he isn't a rushing threat.
Murray could run less and still be an elite Fantasy option if he took a leap as a passer, but he hasn't quite done that consistently yet for a full season. The addition of Marquise Brown helps in theory, but he'll be without 2021 leading receiver Christian Kirk as well as DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games (PED suspension), so the degree of difficulty is pretty high. If Murray stumbles again in year four, changes are coming.
2. (55) Trey McBride, TE
3. (87) Cameron Thomas, DE
3. (100) Myjai Sanders, DE
6. (201) Keaontay Ingram, RB
6. (215) Lecitus Smith, OL
7. (244) Christian Matthew, DB
7. (256) Jesse Luketa, LB
7. (257) Marquis Hayes, OL
116 carries, 53 RB targets, 103 WR targets, 27 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Kyler Murray||PA: 589, YD: 4242, TD: 27, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 82, YD: 450, TD: 3|
|RB||James Conner||CAR: 241, YD: 963, TD: 10, TAR: 59, REC: 47, YD: 424, TD: 2|
|RB||Darrel Williams||CAR: 111, YD: 476, TD: 5, TAR: 32, REC: 24, YD: 165, TD: 1|
|WR||Marquise Brown||TAR: 129, REC: 75, YD: 1054, TD: 8|
|WR||DeAndre Hopkins||TAR: 106, REC: 58, YD: 827, TD: 5|
|WR||A.J. Green||TAR: 84, REC: 59, YD: 687, TD: 4|
|WR||Rondale Moore||TAR: 101, REC: 71, YD: 741, TD: 4, CAR: 24, YD: 120.4, TD: 1|
|TE||Zach Ertz||TAR: 100, REC: 66, YD: 676, TD: 4|
Can Kyler Murray sustain a full season of elite play?
It wouldn't be fair to say Murray has stagnated, but we've seen him seemingly take a leap in the early going each of the past two seasons before hitting a wall. His passing numbers were better in 2021, but Murray ran less than we've ever seen from him, which put more pressure on his passing production. He'll face a new test with DeAndre Hopkins suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season, so we'll see if reuniting with college teammate Marquise Brown can help Murray take that next step. He still has No. 1 overall QB upside.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Moore was one of my favorite sleepers last season, but he just never quite managed to get going. But the Cardinals clearly had a plan for their 2021 second-rounder, as he had 33 touches in the first five games. That pace slowed down as the season went on, but if he's able to take a step forward and earn the coaching staff's trust, there's still a ton of potential here – especially with Hopkins out for the first six games. Moore might have a big opportunity to establish himself early, and he'll come effectively free in drafts. Use one of your final-round picks on him and see if his playmaking with the ball in his hands translates this time.
I could go with Conner or Murray, both of whom I could see having career-best seasons, but I'm sticking with Brown, who I expected to break out for Baltimore last season. Things didn't work out the way I expected, mostly because Brown and Lamar Jackson continued to struggle to get on the same page on the deep ball. I'm hoping that won't be as much of a problem with Murray, who has been a more effective deep passer than Jackson over the past two seasons – Murray has completed a higher percentage of his passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field (43.4% or 34.3%) on more attempts (143 to 99), while averaging more yards per attempt (14.9 to 14.9). Brown deserves some blame for his inefficiency, but I'm hoping he can take another step forward playing with his former college QB. If he does, he's got top-12 potential with Hopkins suspended.
I want to have faith that Hopkins can bounce back from an injury-marred 2021, and there are some reasons to be optimistic – he had his best yards per attempt since 2018 and continued to dominate in the red zone – but he's 30, coming off surgery, and is facing a six-game suspension to open the season. It's hard to hit the ground running mid-season under the best of circumstances, and I'm not sure these are the best circumstances. Hopkins is still a top-36 WR in ADP since the suspension, and I'm just not sure there's enough of a discount there to justify it.