The Cardinals have been kind to us for fantasy since Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray arrived, taking the next step with the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins before last season. However, Arizona has yet to get over the hump and into the playoffs, and the pivotal third season for Kliff and Kyler is upon us. The Cardinals have made some splashy veteran acquisitions this off-season to try to help the process along — most notably JJ Watt on the defensive side of the football.
Can Murray translate his fantasy success into more on-field success, the way Josh Allen did in Buffalo in his third season? Can Chase Edmonds become more than a part-time running back? Do James Conner and AJ Green have anything left? What does Kingsbury have in store for explosive rookie WR Rondale Moore?
And — most importantly — can this club earn a postseason spot and save Kingsbury’s job?
Arizona Cardinals Franchise Focus Companion Podcast
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||8 (-133/+110)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 8 (-110) in late March to 8 (-133)
Super Bowl: +5000 in early February to +3300
Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.
Key Offseason Moves
|A.J. Green (WR)||Zaven Collins (LB)||Brett Hundley (QB)|
|Rodney Hudson (C)||Rondale Moore (WR)||Kenyan Drake (RB, LV)|
|James Conner (RB)||Marco Wilson (CB)||Larry Fitzgerald (WR)|
|Brian Winters (OG)||Victor Kimukeje (EDGE)||Dan Arnold (TE, Car)|
|J.J. Watt (DE)||Tay Gowan (CB)||Haason Reddick (OLB, Car)|
|Malcolm Butler (CB)||De’Vondre Campbell (ILB)|
|Darqueze Dennard (CB)||Patrick Peterson (CB, Min)|
|Shawn Williams (S)||Dre Kirkpatrick (CB)|
|Johnathan Joseph (CB)|
Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 11th-toughest (-0.29)
Running Back: 12th-easiest (+0.36)
Wide Receivers: 10th-easiest (+0.48)
Tight Ends: 4th-toughest (-0.56)
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 24.5 (1st)
Plays per game: 68.3 (2nd)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 55.3% (22nd) | Run: 44.7% (11th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 49.9% (16th) | Run: 50.1% (17th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 61.1% (27th) | Run: 38.9% (6th)
For the second year in a row, the Cardinals were the quickest team in the NFL. In HC Kliff Kingsbury’s first year, the offense got a play off every 25.6 seconds of game clock and were just a touch quicker last year (24.5 seconds) thanks in large part to running more no-huddle. In 2019, Arizona ran no-huddle on a league-leading 28% of their snaps and boosted that up to 37% last year. Getting to the line of scrimmage faster means you’re saving clock and leads to more play volume for their offense and their opponents. More plays equals more opportunities for fantasy points all around.
Despite their fast-paced attack, Arizona’s offense has been close to average when it comes to actually producing. Over the last two combined years, the Cardinals offense is 15th in yards gained per drive, 14th in scores per drive, 15th in red-zone TDs, and 16th in first downs per play.
Kyler Murray’s 25.5 FPG in 2020 is the fifth-best season ever by a quarterback, behind only Lamar Jackson (27.9 in 2019), Aaron Rodgers (26.5 in 2011), Michael Vick (26.2 in 2010), and Patrick Mahomes (26.2 in 2018).
Murray averaged 9.8 rushing fantasy points per game, which is the third-most ever by a QB behind Jackson (10.8 rushing FPG in 2018) and Vick (10.3 in 2010).
Murray averaged 30.5 rushing yards per game on scrambles alone last year, which was second only to Russell Wilson (30.7).
DeAndre Hopkins has now seen 150 or more targets in six-straight seasons.
Despite having very little competition for targets, Christian Kirk saw 5 or fewer looks in 7-of-14 games.
Among the 23 RBs to have over 150 carries last year, James Conner ranked fourth from last in positive run rate (carries that generate positive EPA). Only Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Frank Gore were worse.
Huber’s Scheme Notes
During Kingsbury’s first season in Glendale, it surprised nobody when the Cardinals finished with over three times as many offensive snaps with at least four detached receivers as any other team. Arizona also accumulated four times as many ‘19 rushing attempts with at least four wide as every other team sans Seattle. With the additions of A.J. Green and Rondale Moore for the 2021 season, we’re expecting to see Kingsbury use as many four-wide sets as possible.
Kingsbury has already stated that he plans to manufacture touches for Moore. With Kliff’s Air Raid background, it was a bit disappointing to see Arizona finish just 15th in total passing attempts last season. And, short of a significant shift in the personnel approach, we need to hit the brakes on Moore’s immediate role expectations. Those four-side sets will be Moore’s most significant opportunity to contribute since Arizona finished third-to-last in the number of three-wide passing plays. You can bank on Christian Kirk eating up the majority of inside snaps when playing from three wide, at least early on.
One of the areas of the Cardinals’ offense that could surrender snaps to a slight shift in personnel approach is the ground game. No, Kyler Murray will not be slowing down his scrambling prowess anytime soon. However, I’m not sold on a clean swap from Kenyan Drake to James Conner. Drake fell well short of having the dynamite ‘20 season many envisioned, but Conner’s plodding style didn’t exactly help the Steelers’ playoff hopes last season. Chase Edmonds should have a stranglehold of the RB carry share as long as he’s healthy. But Edmonds is simply not built for 20 touches a game. Should we expect Arizona to force feed the remainder of those touches to an inefficient Conner? My money will be on those unaccounted for snaps lining the pockets of additional scrambling attempts for Murray and short strikes to both Kirk and Moore.
The leash for DC Vance Joseph isn’t nearly as long as he’d like. In fact, nobody would have batted an eye if Joseph had been replaced after a dismal 2020 season for the Arizona defense. First of all, from a scouting standpoint that factors more than just the results, only the Texans and Lions were more helpless at stopping the run last season. If it wasn’t clear, those are literally the last two defenses you want to be categorized beside. Things became so dire that the Cardinals ultimately became a weekly fantasy target whenever facing mobile QBs. And it appears Joseph is fully committed to his system after retaining the entirety of his defensive staff.
Judging by the roster turnover, it’s entirely clear Arizona feels confident positive results are ahead. The additions of J.J. Watt and Zaven Collins to their 4-3 front should help to shore up the run defense. The massive question mark is at CB. Patrick Peterson signed with Minnesota, Johnathan Joseph retired, and Dre Kirkpatrick was handed his walking papers. In their place, Arizona added Malcolm Butler and Darqueze Dennard. Butler is coming off a decent season with Tennessee, but will be playing his age-31 season. Both additions can be considered more as Band-Aids rather than answers. While they are both damn fine safeties, Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson will not be able to cover the entire field.
Since the entire defensive staff will be returning, the Cardinals should be one of our weekly DFS targets. First-and-foremost, they employed the most snaps from a Cover 1 (man) last season. I have them ranked as the 11th-most “vanilla” defense due to their high-rate of standard coverage schemes. In comparison, the Rams, Bears, and Colts finished as the top-three most “exotic” defenses on the other end of the coverage spectrum. As if it was intentionally scripted, Arizona will face Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, respectively, during the opening weeks of the season. Ouch!
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Kyler Murray (Proj: QB5 | ADP: 42 | Pos ADP: QB3)
Two years into his career, it’s obvious Murray is a super-gifted example of where the QB position is going — or has already gone — in the NFL. And drafting him early in 2020 provided enough return that he’s going even earlier in 2021, often as the third QB off the board. Murray finished as the QB1 in FPG (25.5). He finished as a top-5 fantasy QB eight times in 2020, and finished three more times as a top-12 fantasy QB. The eight top-5 finishes tied him with Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers for most at the position, while only Rodgers (13) had more top-12 finishes than Murray’s 11. Meanwhile, his 51.2 rushing YPG at the position trailed only Lamar Jackson (67.0). Unfortunately for fantasy players, winning a championship with Murray was in spite of him, not because of him. A shoulder injury limited him late in the season, and two of his three worst fantasy performances came in the final two games of the season, with all five of his sub-20 FP performances coming in the final six weeks of the season (he was pulled early in Week 17). In addition to the injury and size concerns, there’s still a feeling when you turn the tape on that Murray is more of a “splash” player than a consistent star at this point, and while there wasn’t a huge improvement from him on film from 2019 to 2020, it’s worth remembering that he’s entering what will be his age-24 season. The arm talent and athleticism is there. The supporting cast is better. A third-year leap for Murray will turn him into one of the league’s brightest stars, but even if he stagnates, there is plenty of evidence to suggest he’s a top-tier fantasy QB.
Chase Edmonds (Proj: RB27 | ADP: 68 | Pos ADP: RB28)
Edmonds is coming off an interesting season in which he finished 7th among RBs in receptions (52) and 25th in total fantasy points despite sharing the backfield in Arizona with Kenyan Drake. The question now becomes if Edmonds can handle a bigger role, or if he’ll cede a similar amount of work to veteran free-agency addition James Conner. While Edmonds’ receiving ability is a huge fact in driving his ADP into the sixth round, where he’s being selected as a low-end RB2/high-end RB3, he’s never had 100 carries in a season, nor has he ever played 50% of his team’s snaps in a season (his career high was set last year, with 46.4%). All in all, Edmonds was a reliable enough flex play in 2020, finishing as a top-36 RB 11 times, with eight of those finishes coming in the top 24. However, just two of the 11 finishes were as a top-12 RB, so Edmonds provided more of a solid floor than anything resembling upside. However, it’s also fair to consider that Conner’s availability concerns make him a far worse bet than Drake is as part of a two-man committee, and Arizona allowing Drake to walk is at least a mild endorsement of how the team feels about Edmonds. As a very good receiver, Edmonds should get the “calorie-rich” touches for the Cardinals’ backfield, but he likely won’t see more than 10-12 carries in a game, and his goal-line upside is crushed by the presence of Kyler Murray (11 rushing TD in 2020). His ADP is fair given the caveats.
James Conner (Proj: RB43 | ADP: 101 | Pos ADP: RB38)
Conner joins Arizona after four injury-plagued seasons in Pittsburgh. He missed 14 games in those seasons, which quite frankly may be fewer games than you might think based on his reputation. But injuries — ankle, quad, shoulder among them — have limited Conner’s fantasy production over the years, and last season he had to deal with a pitiful Pittsburgh offensive line and non-existent run game overall. Conner still managed to finish as a top-12 fantasy RB in five of his 13 games, and as a top-24 fantasy RB in three more. He touched the ball 204 times in 13 games (15.7 per game), and he’s been a reliable receiver in his career as well. Unfortunately, Conner’s star has faded since 2018, when he was a true bell cow for the Steelers and finished as the RB7 in total fantasy points. That and his injury history have pushed him into the 9th-10th round range in drafts, as the expectation is he’ll be working as the less productive member of a committee with Chase Edmonds. But the departed Kenyan Drake is leaving 264 touches behind, and Edmonds has never even had 100 carries in a single season. The chance Conner scoops up a majority of those vacated touches makes him a viable, if boring, Zero-RB kind of pick.
DeAndre Hopkins (Proj: WR7 | ADP: 18 | Pos ADP: WR4)
Hopkins dominated in Arizona last season, finishing as the WR4 in total fantasy points (289.8) and WR5 in FPG (18.1). It turns out it wasn’t just Deshaun Watson who has eyes for Nuk — Kyler Murray targeted Hopkins just as aggressively, throwing 160 his way (#2 to Stefon Diggs). Hopkins has now finished as a top-6 WR in five of the last six seasons, having seen 150+ targets in each of those seasons (the only season he didn’t finish as a top-6 WR, Brock Osweiler was his QB). Nine times during the season, Hopkins finished as the overall WR2 or better. And while the Cardinals have more depth at the WR position this season following the selection of Rondale Moore and the signing of AJ Green, it’s worth noting that Green might have been the single worst receiver in all of football in 2020. One of the NFL’s contested catch masters, Hopkins could see 150 targets in a 17-game season … and that would be his lowest per-game target rate since 2014. His second-round ADP is obviously fair.
AJ Green (Proj: WR67 | ADP: 192 | Pos ADP: WR70)
Fantasy players are certainly not drafting Green on name value alone. They realize just how atrocious he was last year in Cincinnati. Despite seeing 104 targets, Green had just 47 receptions in 2020 (45.2%), his first season since missing the entire 2019 year with a preseason ankle injury. He was 32nd among WRs in total targets, but 67th in fantasy points. No receiver with even 80 targets finished behind Green in total fantasy points. Per SIS, the Bengals lost .18 expected points per Green target, the worst among any WR with 50 or more targets. Green did at least play 16 games, but that 16-game schedule ended inauspiciously — he didn’t catch a single one of his 6 targets in his final game as a Bengal, against Baltimore. Green should get the first crack to start opposite DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, as Christian Kirk has been a massive disappointment in his career thus far. He’s on just a one-year deal, but with $6 million of it guaranteed, the Cardinals must feel Green has something left in the tank. Last year’s tape and production wouldn’t demonstrate that.
Rondale Moore (Proj: WR74 | ADP: 170 | Pos ADP: WR63)
The “biggest” question with Moore is simply that — is he big enough to play a significant snap share, and therefore be a significant contributor for fantasy? At just 5’7” and 181 pounds, he’s one of the smallest players in the entire NFL. Of course, his explosiveness measurables were off the charts, and that makes him a player for whom coach Kliff Kingsbury will have to scheme touches. Kingsbury has discussed how Moore stresses a defense “horizontally,” so that sounds like jet sweeps and little flip passes will be part of the plan for Moore as a rookie, much as they were part of the plan at Purdue. Will he get enough of them to make it count for fantasy? The markets view it as doubtful given his ADP, but his ADP also makes it affordable to dabble in the event he does play enough snaps as part of a predominant “11” and “10” personnel attack, as he can also do “traditional” WR things like play in the slot (he showed excellent route running against man coverage in college) and beat corners deep.
Christian Kirk (Proj: WR89 | ADP: 198 | Pos ADP: WR72)
Kirk, in the final year of his rookie contract, is going to have to prove something this year. The “idea” of Kirk has always been better than the reality, with the occasional flash of brilliance dimmed by the much more frequent no-shows. Despite playing one more game in 2020 than 2019 (14 vs. 13), Kirk’s targets (79 vs. 108), receptions (48 vs. 68), and receiving yards (621 vs. 709) all fell off following the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins. Kirk scored 6 TDs in 2020 vs. just 3 in 2019, but the maddening thing is that most of these TDs have come in multi-TD contests. Kirk had two games with 2 TDs in 2020, and all 3 of his 2019 TDs came in one game. So, more than likely, chasing those points from Kirk was a losing proposition. There’s talent here, but he’s been little more than a tease. Following the signing of AJ Green and drafting of Rondale Moore, Kirk is at his final chance to produce in Arizona. With an ADP of nearly 200, the markets don’t think he’s up to it, but at least he’s a free best ball stack with Kyler Murray.
Andy Isabella (Proj: WR122 | ADP: 339 | Pos ADP: WR122)
A freakish athlete who has never been able to consistently get on the field, Isabella is now buried on Arizona’s depth chart after the club signed AJ Green and drafted Rondale Moore. Isabella was a healthy scratch toward the end of last season, and despite Christian Kirk missing Week 17 with COVID-19, Isabella played just 3 offensive snaps. He needs a big summer to change his standing in this organization, but his speed will keep getting him chances.
Hansen’s Final Points
I loved Kyler Murray entering the league in 2019, and he’s done as well as I could have envisioned in his two seasons, but I’m not expecting to draft him much in 2021, and we don’t have anyone on staff who is strongly in Murray’s corner as a great fantasy pick. I nicknamed him “Kyler the Compiler” last year because he was adding to his fantasy totals with ease for most of the season, thanks largely to his running and their ability to scheme up great designed runs for him near the goal line. But the fantasy production slowed down considerably after his injury, so he’s not yet reached the point where we can count on him for fantasy if he’s not running a lot. Murray, through two seasons, is more of an “individual play” guy than a consistent mover of the ball via the forward pass. The additions of Rondale Moore and AJ Green should help, as should an upgraded OL, so we cannot rule out a noticeable improvement from Murray the passer. But his lack of height does look like a factor that could limit his upside throwing it.
Ultimately, the biggest gripe I have with Murray is his cost (44 ADP, QB3). It’s a fair price to pay for a guy who was a fantasy juggernaut for two-thirds of the season last year, but Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson are a round cheaper (as of July), and there’s no shortage of strong QB options on the board, per usual.
We’re all still trying to figure out what Chase Edmonds is, but we should be clued in well in 2021. Can he be a primary back in a pass-happy spread offense? Is he more of a complementary player? Or is he somewhere in between as a 1A or 1B type of RB? We have him projected for 190 touches this year (140 carries, 50 catches), so we’re leaning toward him being a 1A or 1B type. Considering James Conner’s two-year decline in nearly every statistical category, including games played (23 games played the last two seasons vs. 27 the previous two), there’s some upside to Edmonds, who could also ensure Conner isn’t a major factor by playing well. But Edmonds may be better off sharing the ball liberally in this backfield. In Week 9 last year, Edmonds was the bellcow for the Cardinals, but it didn’t go well. He had an impressive 28 opportunities, but he turned that into only 25/70 rushing and 3/18 receiving, good for a paltry 11.8 FP.
Entering the final year of his contract with a new jersey number (2), Edmonds believes he can be a 20-touch guy this year. We have him with only 12 touches a game in 16 games, which is low, frankly. But we do have him with a career-high 140 carries and another 50 or more catches, and his 179.5 projected points (as of July) constitutes a high-end RB3, and we’d draft him as such if we wanted a strong flex or third back. We’re just not ready to sign off on Edmonds as an RB2, and his value and production obviously takes a serious hit in non-PPR leagues.
If you’re into drafting young players at RB whose best football is still in front of them, James Conner is not for you. It’s pretty clear his best football is already behind him. Of course, he’s hardly an old player at 26, and he has shown he can play at a high level in this league as a runner and a receiver. Even in 2021, he did look good at times, and he had three 100-yard rushing performances in his first six games. It’s hard to predict a bounce-back season this year in Arizona, where he will likely be TD-dependent like Kenyan Drake generally was last year, but with a solid role with 10+ touches a week, he could certainly go down as a very decent pick around 90-100 overall, especially if Edmonds proves that he’s not a primary back, or at least not an ideal early-down back.
The only negative thing I can say about DeAndre Hopkins is that I’ll probably prefer to draft a RB in Round 2 over any wideout, even a stud on a Hall-of-Fame path like Hopkins. Even with the receiver additions, Hopkins is still a good bet to get 9-10 targets a game, so the main issue is a potential TD shortage, which was the case last year. In his previous two seasons, Hopkins scored on 6.7% of his targets, but that number was down 3.7% in 2020, in large part to Kyler Murray’s league-leading 11 rushing TDs. That is why he has the fewest projected TDs than any of our top-10 WRs with 7.5, which has him lower on our board than most at WR7. Still, if you grab Hopkins in the second after securing a top RB, we’re not going to argue at all.
He’s coming off one of the worst seasons we’ve seen from a starting WR in quite some time and will be only one of four WRs in the mix each week for targets, so it’s hard to get excited about former stud AJ Green, who turns 33 on July 31. Personally, based on his spotless track record, I seriously doubt Green was mailing it in last year, but if he was giving his full effort, it’s fair to wonder if he is, in fact, toast. For fantasy, Green is damn near a free pick, at least, with an ADP of 175+ (WR 70). We don’t see much upside, unfortunately, but he’s in a very decent spot playing alongside stud DeAndre Hopkins, so Green may not be the first guy you look to cut when making early-season WW moves. If the vibes are good in training camp, and especially if he’s showing good chemistry with Murray (which he did not have last year with Joe Burrow), we’ll be a little more optimistic, but Green won’t be landing inside our top-50 at WR no matter what.
It’s usually difficult to handicap unconventional “gadgety” guys entering the NFL, and that does apply to Moore. The good news is the masses also seem skeptical, as he’s only the WR63 with 170 ADP as of July. But there is also some intrigue with the unknown, and the Cards will manufacture touches for the explosive Moore, who can get vertical well for a small receiver (not not nearly as well as Tyreek Hill, but Moore is a little more physical). The odds are stacked against him in his rookie season, but the Cards used a valuable second round pick on him this year looking for an immediate contribution, so he’s worth a shot late if you’re looking for some juice and excitement.
For four weeks in 2020, Christian Kirk was a fantasy stud, ranking as the WR9 with 16.8 points per game from Weeks 4-7. Unfortunately, he was WR64 in total points in his next and final eight games of the season. That’s Kirk in a nutshell: feast or famine. Volume will be a problem again, and a bigger problem than in 2020, when he saw 5 or fewer looks in 7-of-14 games. The positives are that he’s entering year three with Kyler Murray, and he should get more opportunities in the slot this year with Larry Fitzgerald off the roster (presuming Fitz, of course, doesn’t return). He’s a very late-round flyer only in redraft leagues, but he is a good bet to have a big game or two, so he’s not a bad late-round dart throw in Best Ball.
After two uninspiring seasons, Andy Isabella is completely undraftable unless injury disaster strikes their WR room in August. While the drafting of Rondale Moore was not good for Christian Kirk, it was a bigger indictment on Isabella, who will open the season as their #5 WR. That’s not the stuff of fantasy legend.
The Cardinals have the worst group of TEs in the league, but they have to be “led” by someone, and that’s likely Maxx Williams. Williams hasn’t caught more than 32 balls since his 2015 rookie season, and he’s hauled in only 54 balls total his last five seasons. But despite being the top TE here heading into 2021, we count 20+ non-starters whom we’d rather draft.