Fantasy Football: Larry Fitzgerald sees high ceiling for Cardinals passing attack

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fantasy owners will likely flock to the Cardinals passing attack this season, and rightfully so. Carson Palmer remains a quality Fantasy quarterback, and Larry Fitzgerald leads what should be a standout receiving corps with J.J. Nelson and John Brown.

But for a while this offseason, it looked like it was all going to fall apart. Palmer and Fitzgerald mulled retirement, and Brown is still coming off season hampered by a sickle-cell issue.

Thankfully, Palmer and Fitzgerald are all in this season, and Brown reportedly is ready for a rebound year. With Nelson a potential breakout candidate, this could be an explosive aerial attack again.

Fitzgerald, who spoke with CBS Sports at Anquan Boldin’s charity golf event Thursday, said he did consider ending what should be a Hall of Fame career. He’ll be 34 in August and has spent 13 seasons in the NFL.

“I’m getting a little long in the tooth,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not as easy to do it. But I still enjoy it. It’s a fun sport. It’s great to be out there for one common goal with your teammates.”

Larry Fitzgerald WR / Arizona (2016 stats)
TAR: 150 REC: 107 YDS: 1,023 TD: 6

That common goal is a Super Bowl, and Fitzgerald still has the ability to be a solid contributor -- in Fantasy and reality. He’s coming off consecutive seasons with at least 107 catches, 1,023 yards and six touchdowns, and he was the No. 16 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues last year. He was No. 9 in 2015.

The problem for Fitzgerald has been hot starts and cold finishes. In 2016, he had five games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league but only one in his final seven outings, including five games with six points or less over that span. 

The year before, it was almost the exact same thing. He had six games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in 2015 but only one in his final seven outings, and he scored six points or less in four of those games.

In PPR leagues, Fitzgerald remains a No. 2 Fantasy receiver, and he’s worth drafting no later than Round 6. Even with the potential retirement talk, it’s hard to overlook his role in the offense as Palmer’s go-to guy, and another season with close to 100 catches is possible, especially with an average of 148 targets the past two years.

But in standard formats, Fitzgerald should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy option, and he shouldn’t be drafted before Round 7 or 8. And based on the past two seasons, you might consider trading him by Week 8 if he has another hot start.

Carson Palmer QB / Arizona (2016 stats)
CMP %: 61.0 YDS: 4,233 TD: 26 INT: 14

Palmer was kind of the anti-Fitzgerald last season. He started off slow with only two games with 20-plus Fantasy points in his first six games, but he scored at least 20 points in six of his final nine outings and had no games with fewer than 17 points.

Still, Palmer finished as the No. 16 Fantasy quarterback in 2016, which was a drop-off from his No. 5 finish the year before. He’s 37, and this could be his final season in the NFL, but don’t rule him out as a viable Fantasy quarterback.

He’s still worth drafting as a high-end backup with a late-round pick, and he could easily finish as a No. 1 quarterback in all leagues. Fitzgerald is still very confident in Palmer’s ability to throw the ball.

“Carson is a top-10 quarterback in the National Football League,” Fitzgerald said. “Those guys are extremely valuable. We have to ride him, and he’s going to give us a great chance to go out there and have success. We believe in him.”

Fitzgerald also has plenty of faith in Brown and Nelson. For Brown, it’s not so much about skill as it is his health.

John Brown WR / Arizona (2016 stats)
TAR: 72 REC: 39 YDS: 517 TD: 2

While he appeared in 15 games last season, Brown was limited because of his sickle-cell issue and finished with just 39 catches for 517 yards and two touchdowns. This wasn’t the third-year breakout campaign we were hoping for after he had 65 catches for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwell said in February that the team has helped Brown solve his sickle-cell issue, and he is “very healthy.” Bidwell also added that the Cardinals will get Brown “back the way we had him,” which is exciting for Fantasy owners, who should target Brown with a late-round pick.

Fitzgerald is also looking forward to seeing Brown back at 100 percent.

“I hope he gets the help he needed to make sure he’s able to do what he’s capable of doing,” Fitzgerald said. “When John is healthy he’s a true, true playmaker. You saw that the year before when he was healthy. He’s a guy that can go out and get 1,000 yards and score six to 10 touchdowns a year. He can help you and hurt teams, and we’re all praying that’s behind him.”

Brown is one of my favorite sleepers this year, and you should plan to draft him in all leagues with a late-round pick. And Nelson is one of my favorite breakout candidates, and he’s worth drafting with a mid-round selection.

J.J. Nelson WR / Arizona (2016 stats)
TAR: 74 REC: 34 YDS: 568 TD: 6

Last year, with Brown at less than 100 percent and Michael Floyd gone from the team, Nelson became a go-to option for Palmer and the Cardinals late in the season. He scored at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league in four of his final five games, and he played well when his targets were up.

When Nelson had at least seven targets in a game, which happened five times, he had at least 75 receiving yards or a touchdown in all of those outings. That’s a good place to start coming into this season when he’s expected to be a regular contributor from Week 1, and he’s entering his third year in the NFL.

There’s definite boom-or-bust potential with Nelson, but if Palmer and coach Bruce Arians continue to feature Nelson this year like they did at times in 2016 then the upside could be exceptional. Fitzgerald sees plenty of potential for Nelson this season.

“J.J. continues to get better,” Fitzgerald said. “His confidence, his improvement every year and what he was able to accomplish last year. John going down and then Mike going down, he filled in and played multiple positions. It opened his eyes to how good he can be, and it gave the nation a glimpse of his playmaking ability.”

Along with David Johnson, who is one of the elite running backs in the NFL, this is a team loaded with talent for Fantasy owners. And with Palmer and Fitzgerald back, along with Brown on the road to recovery and Nelson ready to take off, this should be an explosive passing attack.

Fitzgerald is excited about this offense. And Fantasy owners should be as well.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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