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Yes, Johnson is my No. 1 running back heading into 2017. However, there is sitll plenty to like here beyond him: this is still an offense which threw the ball 646 times last season; Larry Fitzgerald is still one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game; J.J. Nelson still has intrigue as a third-year breakout candidate. And perhaps most importantly, the Cardinals have hope Carson Palmer and John Brown can bounce back from a underwhelming 2016.
That will largely revolve around Brown's health, and his ability to return to his 2015 form. Brown had to deal with both his sickle-cell trait and a cyst on his spine in 2016, so it's easy to give him a free pass on a disappointing year. But, he's also already dealing with a quad injury at the start of camp. If Brown returns to form, Palmer suddenly has a full complement of weapons and is a huge value on Draft Day. That's still a big if, but as you know by now, we assume health for the purposes of this exercise.
*Rankings expressed below are in terms of expected Fantasy points. This is a part of our actual Fantasy Football rankings but not a direct correlation to my rankings. Things like injury risk, upside, etc. factor into rankings but they're not being talked about here. This is simply an expectation as the team is currently constructed.
Breaking down the touches
I expect the Cardinals to bounce back after a disappointing 7-8-1 record in 2016. I also expect their pass attempts number will revert back to where they've been in the past. In this case it's probably more instructive to look at the three year average, with the team averaging 592 pass attempts and 416 rush attempts. They should be in that same ballpark again.
One major outlier from 2016 was that they threw 22 percent of their passes to their running backs (mostly David Johnson). I'm projecting a small regression (to 20 percent), but Johnson is talking a lot about getting to 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, so it's hard to project too much of a drop off. If Brown is healthy, I would expect more targets for the receivers, but if not, Johnson may very well match his target total from 2016.
- Nelson could make a leap even with John Brown healthy, but if Brown goes down again Nelson could see an explosion in targets. He had 30 targets over his final three games in 2016. He's someone that's definitely ranked higher than his expectations say he should be, because there's plenty of upside here.
- Jermaine Gresham has some appeal in a best ball league but the Cardinals just don't throw the ball to their tight ends enough for him to be drafted in a standard league.
Yes, the Cardinals signed Chris Johnson to back up David Johnson again. No, he doesn't have any appeal as anything other than a handcuff in a deep league... and even then he's one of my least favorite handcuffs.
As much as we've talked about John Brown's injury it should probably be mentioned that Jaron Brown and Chad Williams are vying to be the fourth wide receiver. That could be a valuable role with one injured receiver and another well past 30 years old. Williams was drafted in the third round out of Grambling State. While he faced a lower level of competition in college, his 90-1,337-11 line is impressive at any level.