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2016 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals
QuarterbacksStarter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Drew Stanton, Matt Barkley, Jake Coker [R] Starting QB: Carson Palmer is entering his fourth season with the Cardinals (after previous stints with the Bengals and Raiders), and the match has proven to be a good one. The Cardinals were in dire need of leadership from the quarterback position when Palmer joined the team; and in turn the receiving talent around Palmer has helped resurrect his career. He finished as the fifth-best fantasy quarterback in 2015. A consistent fantasy performer for much of the season, he dislocated his right index finger in Week 15, which appeared to negatively affect his performance the rest of the way (including in the playoffs). The finger will be fully healed heading into 2016, however, and there's little reason to suspect that Palmer won't have another productive season in Bruce Arians' offense. Backup QB: Drew Stanton has been a backup for most of his five-year career, getting significant action only in 2014, his first year with the Cardinals. He has terrific physical attributes -- size, athleticism, arm strength -- but his on-field performance has been generally unimpressive. He re-signed a two-year contract with the Cardinals this past offseason, where he has no chance of competing for a starting job as long as Carson Palmer is in town. Matt Barkley spent his first two seasons with the Eagles before he was traded to Arizona for a seventh-round pick. Most of his snaps have come during preseason contests, in which he has failed to impress. Jake Coker will challenge Barkley for the third quarterback spot, assuming the team carries three again. Coker went 14-0 in his only year as a starter in college, but Alabama did not ask him to carry the team. He lacks mobility in the pocket and has questionable arm strength and accuracy.
Running BacksStarter: David Johnson
Backup(s): Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor
Fullback(s): Starting RB: The Cardinals are blessed with talent at running back, led by second-year player David Johnson. Johnson got his chance down the stretch of the 2015 season (after Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson were both injured), and he was electrifying. Johnson is a complete back who should stay on the field on passing downs and in goal-line situations. He has big-play ability, but will also grind out the difficult yards on third-and-two. He has earned featured status in the Cardinals backfield, but the team will find uses for Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington as well, so his workload may not quite be on par with that of the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell or the Rams' Todd Gurley. Backup RBs: Chris Johnson entered the season as the backup to Andre Ellington, but when Ellington sprained his knee in Week 1, Johnson played well enough to capture and retain the starting job until breaking his leg in Week 12. Johnson no longer has the breakaway speed he had early in his career with the Titans, but last year he proved to be an efficient runner, reliable and productive. Andre Ellington has terrific open-field run skills and big-play ability, but he's been unable to stay healthy. After an impressive rookie season, he was much less effective in his second year as he played through a foot injury all season. And then last year, in his third season, he was hampered by knee and foot injuries again. Consider this a make-or-break season for Ellington; if he can't establish better durability, the Cardinals will move on from the talented runner. Stepfan Taylor will round out the roster, but was disappointing last season, and has no value in standard fantasy leagues. Fullback:
Wide ReceiversStarters: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown
Backups: Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Brittan Golden Starting WRs: The Cardinals start three wide receivers in their base offense, and have a trio of receivers that rivals any in the league. Larry Fitzgerald is a twelve year veterans whose resume includes five seasons as a top-five fantasy WR. (He came in at number nine last season.) He has made the successful transition into the slot, where he relies on savvy to get open over the middle of the field. He was never a true deep threat, but he still has enough quickness to get separation out of his cuts. On the outside, the Cardinals have two younger receivers who appear to be on upward trajectories. Michael Floyd is a big, athletic receiver capable of making big plays. He has been inconsistent throughout his career, but finished the 2015 season in strong fashion (and may have been productive all year if not for a gruesome injury resulting in three dislocated fingers during training camp). John Brown is small but ultra-quick. He is a dangerous runner after the catch, and has the speed to stretch defenses. Together, the three receivers complement each other well, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Brown has had a lingering concussion and Fitzgerald has had a MCL issue with one of his knees, so Floyd is the only fully healthy Cardinals starter heading into the season. Backup WRs: Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, and Brittan Golden will compete for roster spots behind the top three wide receivers. The diminuitive Nelson, a true burner, is the fastest of the bunch, but Brown and Golden also have sub-4.5 speed. Brown is a lanky receiver with deceptive quickness. Golden made some big plays on limited opportunities last season.
Tight EndsStarters: Darren Fells
Backups: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Gerald Christian, Ifeanyi Momah The Cardinals do not feature their tight ends as receivers in the passing game, so nobody in this bunch has much fantasy potential. Fells was the starter last season, but was mediocre as both a receiver and a blocker. He has had a good Gresham is a one-dimensional player at this point in his career, used strictly as an in-line blocker. He was effective in that role last season and could get more playing time in 2016, but it won't help his fantasy prospects. Troy Niklas has been unable to stay healthy. He is a big, slow tight end with more potential as a blocker than as a receiver; but if he can stay healthy, he should challenge for the starting job. Gerald Christian and Ifeanyi Momah have both been beset by injuries so far in their young careers; neither has yet played a regular-season snap.
Place KickerChandler Catanzaro: Catanzaro finished third in the league in scoring with 137 points, a big leap from the 114 he put up in his rookie year. He actually had two fewer field goal attempts, converting 28-of-31, but his extra point attempts went from 27 to 58 with the return of Carson Palmer. There's no reason to think he will slow down in 2016, playing indoors with an offense that should get even better with David Johnson upgrading the running back position. He's worth a pick in the 6-10 range at kicker.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Kerwynn Williams, J.J. Nelson, Andre Ellington When their top returner in 2015, David Johnson, became more integral to the offense, Arizona took him off of returns to keep him fresh. They're not likely to give him those duties back in 2016, which means Kerwynn Williams is the most likely candidate to handle the job this year. Speedy receiver J.J. Nelson and backup RB Andre Ellington will probably get the chance to return a few kicks of their own, too. Punt Returners: Patrick Peterson, J.J. Nelson, John Brown Ever since Patrick Peterson tied the NFL record with four punt return touchdowns as a rookie, his grasp on the job has been unbreakable, even as his defensive importance has risen. If Arizona does look into scaling back his workload, they have speed to burn behind him, most notably from undersized deep-threat J.J. Nelson.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Mike Iupati, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Evan Mathis, RT D.J. Humphries
Key Backups: Earl Watford, A.Q. Shipley, Cole Toner [R] The Cardinals ended last year as one of the best lines in the league. They could be even better this year. Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati are one of the most dynamic left sides in pro football. Iupati is an impact blocker who was honored with both Pro Bowl and second team All-Pro honors last season. Former All-Pro Evan Mathis was signed in free agency, following his Super Bowl victory with the Broncos, and he is projected to lock down the right guard spot next to second year player D.J. Humphries. The team lost Bobbie Massie to free agency and Humphries has never been a starter. But still, the team is giving him the chance to prove his high draft status. Earl Watford and A.Q. Shipley should be lurking on the bench, should the veterans ahead of them fall injured. Overall, this is an extremely solid group, very good in run blocking and solid against the pass rush. Tier Ranking: Top Tier.
Team DefenseThe Cardinals finished 2015 as the #1 fantasy D/ST in most scoring systems fueled by absolute eviscerations of the Eagles, 49ers, and Packers that were rare week winners from a D/ST. Arizona was in the top 10 in scoring defense, rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, interceptions, and forced fumbles, and they tied for the league lead in defensive scores. On top of that, the team added top pass rusher Chandler Jones in a trade with New England. Playmaking safety Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL in December, so his return for the season opener isn't a sure thing, but the Cardinals might have the privilege of defending Jimmy Garoppolo in his first NFL start if Tom Brady's suspension isn't overturned. They have been going off of the board as the #2 D/ST but they might deserve to go ahead of the Broncos with the addition of Jones and offense to keep them playing from ahead most of the season.
Defensive LineStarters: Calais Campbell DE, Frostee Rucker DE, Rodney Gunter DT
Backups: Robert Nkemdiche DE [R], Ed Stinson DE, Josh Mauro DE, Red Bryant DT, Corey Peters DT Starting DL: Campbell turns 30 in 2016 but is coming off two straight Pro Bowls, and may be the second best 3-4 DE in the game after the incomparable J.J. Watt. At 6'8", 310 lbs., he inevitably conjures up images and invokes the comparison of former Cowboy great Ed "Too Tall" Jones (a prep All-American hoops star - as was Campbell, fourth in scoring and top rebounder in the state of Colorado). A freakish athlete for a big man, in the seven seasons since his 2008 rookie campaign he has averaged 45+ solo tackles and nearly 7 sacks. Campbell is in the final season of a five year, $55 million extension signed in 2012. Rucker is a former USC/CIN DE with the athleticism and versatility to star at RB and LB as a Los Angeles prep. He signed a one year extension last year, and turns 33 in 2016. Rucker set a career high with 5 sacks in 2014, 3-4 DE is not a position conducive to generating big stats. Gunter was a 2015 fourth round rookie out of football powerhouse Delaware State. Compared to some of his Arizona predecessors at NT, he is a relatively svelte 6'5", 305 lbs. Backup DL: Nkemdiche was an elite, super blue chip recruit (one of the most coveted in SEC history), and if not for a high profile drug-related fall and arrest that led to a Sugar Bowl suspension, he might have carried a top 10 grade from the class of '16. Being drafted at #29 overall, he has the upside to be the steal of the draft. Nkemdiche offers a potent, tantalizing combo of size, power, fluid agility, athleticism and explosiveness for a big man (6'4", nearly 300 lbs., 35" VJ and 28 BP reps). Conversely, serious character and work ethic red flags made him one of the most polarizing prospects in the scouting community, his production wasn't in line with his formidable physical tools, and inconsistent Jekyll and Hyde tape points to motor, hustle, effort, urgency and down-to-down intensity questions - in other words, the definition of boom or bust. If Nkemdiche fulfills his off the charts potential, he has the ability to be the most talented bookend to Campbell since Darnell Dockett in his prime. He is also a natural 3-technique DT in even numbered fronts. The Cards blitzed nearly 100 times more than any other team in 2013-2014 combined, and were close to 50% on pass plays in 2015 (league average closer to 30%). The hope is that Nkemdiche and new OLB Chandler Jones can win the old fashioned way, one on one, and generate more sacks and QB pressure without resorting to scheme for it and constantly dialing the blitz up to 11 like the DC equivalent of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel. Ex-Seahawk Bryant just turned 32, and former Falcon Peters turns 28 but is returning from a 2015 ruptured Achilles tendon.
LinebackersStarters: Chandler Jones OLB, Markus Golden OLB, Deone Bucannon ILB, Kevin Minter ILB
Backups: Alex Okafor OLB, Kareem Martin OLB, Shaq Riddick OLB, Donald Butler ILB Starting LBs: Jones was a surprising trade acquisition in the off-season, costing a 2016 second round pick and disappointing former 2013 top 10 overall G Jonathan Cooper. Outstanding young pass rushers that are 26 and have multiple 10+ sack seasons rarely change hands. There were at least two contributing factors. The week before a NE playoff game against KC, Jones had a bizarre incident involving an adverse reaction to synthetic marijuana. Also, he is in a contract year and in line for either a massive extension, 2017 franchise tag or future departure in free agency. Jones hails from an extremely athletic family, including older brothers Art (DE for the Colts) and Jon (one of the greatest MMA fighters in UFC history). With rookie DE Nkemdiche, the Cardinals may have turned a chronic pass rushing weakness into a strength virtually overnight. Golden was a 2015 second rounder that flashed some impressive production in limited action (six starts - 20 solo tackles, 10 assists, 4 sacks and 2 FFs). "Moneybacker" Bucannon is in the vanguard of the NFL's burgeoning trend of hybrid safety/linebackers. The former first rounder lit up the box score and set career marks across the board with 16 starts, 90 solo tackles, 19 assists, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FFs, 1 FR and 1 TD. Bucannon was the biggest, fastest and most athletic top safety prospect in the class of '14, flashing an unusually diverse skill set highlighted by a dominant senior performance at Washington State, including Pac-12 leading tackle and lead-tying INT numbers. Minter's career got off to a slow start, but he had a career high 16 starts and 72 solo tackles in 2015. All four starting LBs have first or second round pedigree and range in age from 24-26 (from the DL, Campbell and Nkemdiche make it six front seven defenders with that pedigree, and the latter turns just 22 in 2016). Backup LBs: Okafor is a 25 year old 2013 fourth rounder. The then-third year pass rusher was less efficient last season in his 13 starts (with 25 solo tackles and 2 sacks) than Golden was in six. Though Okafor fared much better in 2014, with 30 solo tackles and 8 sacks in 12 starts. Martin is 24 and a 2014 third rounder, with two starts in each of his first two seasons, combining for 13 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 FFs. Like most of the pass rushers selected by Arizona, he has some highly athletic traits. Martin could have been genetically engineered in a DE lab, at 6'6", 272 lbs. with 35" arms (can almost tie his shoes without bending over) and explosive 35.5" vertical and 10'9" broad jumps - he was a state finalist high jumper as a North Carolina prep. Riddick's 2015 rookie season was scuttled by aggravating a preseason injury. The fifth rounder was inactive for all but one game, and never saw live action.
Defensive BacksStarters: Patrick Peterson CB, Justin Bethel CB, Tyrann Mathieu FS/CB, Tony Jefferson SS
Backups: Brandon Williams CB [R], Harlan Miller CB [R], Tyvon Branch FS, D.J. Swearinger SS, Marqui Christian SS [R] Starting DBs: Peterson is a 5 X Pro Bowler and 3 X First-team All-Pro, and has excelled and separated himself at every level of competition (also a former USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year and 2 X All-American at LSU). Athletically he is a super freak, with an extremely rare, legit Hall of Fame caliber conjunction of near LB-size at 6'1", 220 lbs. with elite CB or skill position speed (4.34 40 at his combine). Peterson is one of the most dangerous players in the league with the ball in his hands (4 punt return TD season tied an NFL record), and that could happen more often in 2016 with the infusion of pass rushing talent in the form of ex-Patriot DE/OLB Jones and rookie DE Nkemdiche. He stated after the 2014 season diabetes had caused his performance to suffer, but that his condition was amenable to treatment and responding favorably once properly diagnosed. Peterson signed a 5 year extension two years ago worth $70 million ($48 million guaranteed), making him the highest paid CB in the game at the time. He turns just 26 in 2016, and his best football could still be in front of him. Bethel also signed an extension, for three years and $15 million late in the 2015 regular season. Just 25, the sixth rounder from obscure Presbyterian had no starts in his first three seasons until four last year, when he set career highs with 31 solo tackles, 2 INTs and 2 FFs. Another freakish athlete, Bethel's 39.5" VJ was the highest among defensive prospects at the 2012 combine. He paid his dues as one of the best ST players in the NFL. Mathieu has simply become one of the top defensive players in the NFL at any position (could be the most important overall to the stop unit of the Cards, much like Earl Thomas for the Seahawks), and will soon be paid accordingly. Not the biggest FS/CB (5'9", 185 lbs.), torn left AND right ACLs are a concern for the 2013 third rounder, but he is just 24. Jefferson is a 24 year old UFA. He filled up the box score last season in seven starts, with 55 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs and 3 FFs. Backup DBs: Williams is a rookie third rounder with immense positional upside as a former Texas prep five star RB recruit, who after transferring from Oklahoma to Texas A&M, was converted to CB in his senior season. Miller is a sixth round rookie that gives strength in numbers from Arizona's class of '16. As exemplified in the case of Bethel, the scouting department of the Cards is not afraid to beat the bushes with small schools. Miller is from Southeastern Louisiana. Long time Raider Branch turns 30 in 2016 and comes to the desert after just a one year stint with the Chiefs. He signed a significant two year contract of $8 million ($5 million guaranteed). At 6'0" 210 lbs., Branch has the size to line up in big nickel, three safety alignments. Swearinger is a more prolific head hunter than some Papua New Guinea jungle residents. A former second rounder of the Texans who turns 25 in 2016, he is monster tackler with coverage flaws that may need to be schemed around his passing game limitations. Christian won the Cliff Harris Award as the nation's top small-college defensive player in 2015. The fifth rounder is another small school special, from off the beaten path Midwestern State University. Last modified: 2016-09-02 21:30:09