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2017 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Bruce Arians prefers a very aggressive passing game that pushes the ball downfield at a higher rate than nearly any other team in the league. Carson Palmer's ability to execute that plan with consistency made him a strong MVP candidate in 2015, and his struggles down the field resulted in a team-wide regression in 2016. At running back, Arians has stated that he believes some backs are capable of handling a large workload and some are not. Given David Johnson's usage in 2016, it's a safe bet that Arians believes he falls into the former camp.


Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert

Starting QB: Carson Palmer is entering his fifth season with the Cardinals (after previous stints with the Bengals and Raiders), and the match resurrected his career, finishing as the fifth-best fantasy quarterback in 2015. Palmer delivered his third-best career yardage total (4233), but his passing touchdown total dropped from 35 to 26 and he finished the No. 16 fantasy quarterback in 2016. Injuries to John Brown and Michael Floyd didn't help Palmer. His yards per attempt average dropped from a career-high 8.68 in 2015 to a below-average 7.09. In addition to those injuries to his deep threats, Palmer 's sack total jumped from 25 in 2015 to 40 last year. Bruce Arians' offense wants to throw the ball down the field, which is why injured deep threats and struggling offensive line play had culpability in Palmer's demise. With Palmer entering his fourteenth year, GM Steve Keim has already said that the Cardinals are seeking a quarterback of the future.

Backup QB: Drew Stanton has been a backup for most of his six-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. Gabbert has been an unmitigated bust, but Bruce Arians thinks he might be able to get something out of him as a backup because Gabbert hasn't been in good situations and Arians was very high on him in 2011 when he was in the draft.

Running Backs

Starter: David Johnson
Backup(s): Kerywnn Williams, T.J. Logan [R] (inj), Elijhaa Penny, Andre Ellington

Starting RB: The Cardinals had a deep depth chart at running back last year, but the organization parted company with Chris Johnson and Stepfan Taylor and moved Andre Ellington to wide receiver. Its further indication that third-year running back David Johnson is undeniably the man. Johnson earned 2118 total yards and 20 touchdowns-including 80 receptions-in 2016. A complete back, Johnson developed greater patience with all types of blocking that he wasn't as familiar with executing as a rookie. Because he's a great receiver, Johnson could see enough plays split from formation that fans get more acquainted with backup Kerwynn Williams or see occasional running plays for Ellington. However, Johnson is a healthy workhorse who has stated in February that he wants to earn 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in 2017. He has the ability and the role to achieve it on his way to another season as one of the top five fantasy running backs.

Backup RBs: The next back up is former Utah State scat back Kerwynn Williams. Entering his fifth season, Williams is an exciting player with excellent receiving skills that have been largely untapped during his career. Even so, the Cardinals coaching staff has gradually developed confidence in Williams, who initially arrived in Arizona in 2014 and got the organization's attention with a two-week stint during that first year where he carried the ball 34 times for 175 yards during a two-week period filling in for Andre Ellington. Even with David Johnson healthy and rolling, Williams earned a big-play, change-of-pace role in 2016, carrying the ball 18 times for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns. If called upon, Williams will be worth the attention of fantasy owners in 2017. Logan is a speedster from North Carolina with excellent return skills and upside as a third-down back. He catches the ball well and he's a good fit for Arizona's gap-based blocking scheme because he' hits creases hard and holds up well as a physical player. He could develop into a contributor thanks to his vision between the tackles. The 6'2" 235-pound Elijhaa Penny is on a "futures" deal with the Cardinals after an impressive 2016 preseason as a special teams contributor, short-area receiver, and potential goal line option. Bruce Arians announced during the first week of June that Andre Ellington would switch back to the running back depth chart and he will have to make the team as a runner. Arians also said that Ellington would have to play with the physicality and toughness that he showed as a rookie. Rookie T.J. Logan is a speedy return specialist with big-play upside and potential to develop into an every-down player, but he dislocated his wrist during the Hall of Fame game and won't be back until at least Week 8 of the regular season.

Fullback: Expect either Elijhaa Penny or one of the tight ends to fulfill this role as needed in specific situations.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, John Brown
Backups: Jaron Brown, Chad Williams [R], Brittan Golden

Starting WRs: The Cardinals start three wide receivers in their base offense, and after having a trio of receivers that rivaled any in the league in 2015, John Brown couldn't get health, and Michael Floyd couldn't overcome a hamstring injury or a drinking problem that contributed to his release from the team. Larry Fitzgerald is a thirteen-year veteran whose resume includes five seasons as a top-five fantasy WR. The No. 17 fantasy receiver in 2016, Fitzgerald has performed well as a slot receiver. Despite dealing with an MCL injury to begin the year, Fitzgerald earned 107 receptions. The Cardinals scheme moves him around the formation to create mismatches and if the team can get consistent play outside, look for another productive fantasy year for the veteran. John Brown is small but ultra-quick. He is a dangerous runner after the catch, and has the speed to stretch defenses. His lingering concussion and complications from sickle cell anemia limited him during his 15 appearances. Now fully healthy, he should build on his 2015 season of 65 catches, 1,003 yards, and 7 touchdowns. The third spot will likely be a competition or rotation among J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown and Andre Ellington. The diminutive Nelson, a true burner, is the fastest of the bunch, but Brown and Ellington are also explosive players. Brown is a sturdier player who earned the trust of Palmer in the middle of the field while subbing for Michael Floyd, but he tore his ACL in Week 7 last year. Ellington is new to the position, and it's likely he accepted the request to change positions because he has an injury label around the league as a running back, which would have given him zero free agent appeal.

Backup WRs: Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, and Chad Williams will compete for the third spot in the starting rotation. Nelson has the edge with health and experience but Brown is the most well-rounded player. If there are any potential surprises in the mix, it could be from rookies Chad Williams. Williams is a 4.3-speedster with good size and skill at adjusting to the ball. He must refine the smaller details as a route runner so he can be more consistent. He often got the best of well-known competition when the Grambling option got his chance. Expect all three to earn playing time. Hogan is an NAIA star who is known for working two jobs to earn a shot at an education and football. His athletic profile is similar to Larry Fitzgerald's and he has a physical game. Hogan must improve his routes and extending his arms to attack the ball. Jeremy Ross, Brittan Golden, Marquis Bundy, Chris Hubert, and Marvin Hall will compete for remaining roster spots. Golden has sub-4.5 speed and he made some big plays on limited opportunities in 2015. Ross is an excellent runner after the catch and a skilled return specialist. He can fill in as a slot receiver. The 6'4", 215-pound Bundy is a second-year option with 4.49-speed on a "futures" deal after the Cardinals placed him on its practice squad at the end of the 2016 preseason. Hubert has similar dimensions as Nelson, but lacking great timed speed (4.71-second 40). Hall is an explosive developmental option a year removed from the University of Washington who began his career with the Raiders. He'll try to earn a role as a return specialist. Ricky Seals-Jones was a top prospect when he arrived at Texas A&M. He's a big option who is fluid, but he lacks great speed and quickness. He often played as a big slot option and H-Back. If he can either gain weight and play tight end or regain some of his pre-injury speed, he might surprise.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jermaine Gresham
Backups: Troy Niklas, 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 this year, but there is a player worth keeping an eye on long-term. Carson Palmer and Jermaine Gresham have a rapport than extends to their time in Cincinnati. Gresham is a solid in-line blocker with skill for getting open in the shallow zones of a defense. He nearly doubled his target total (61 in 2016) from 2015 due to injuries to the Cardinals' perimeter receivers. Troy Niklas has been unable to stay healthy. He is a big, slow tight end who is fluid at the catch point on the perimeter but with more potential as a blocker than as a receiver. Hakeem Valles could challenge Niklas for the backup role this year. The Cardinals front office saw the Monmouth move-tight end as diamond in the rough capable developing into a 10-year veteran. Valles earned a small amount of playing time last year as a rookie free agent, and if there's an option capable of becoming a reliable intermediate receiver on this depth chart, it's him. Ifeanyi Momah has dealt with injuries while trying to transition to the position from wide receiver. He has yet to play a regular-season snap.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson: 2016 was a disappointing kicking game year for Arizona. Chandler Catanzaro only made 21 of 28 attempts, including two misses under 40 yards. The restricted free agent was not tendered and eventually signed a meager prove it contract with the Jets. The Cardinals went out and signed #11 all-time accuracy leader Phil Dawson. His accuracy dropped off a bit last year, making only 18-of-21 attempts for the limited 49ers offense, but he should still represent an improvement from Catanzaro. The kicking opportunity in Arizona is middling, with Catanzaro topping out at 33 attempts in the last three years. Dawson isn't among the best long distance kickers and Bruce Arians hasn't been inclined to attempt a lot of long field goals, with Catanzaro trying no more than six from 50+ in the last three years. He should do better than 75 percent accuracy, but Dawson isn't a draftable kicker in typical leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: T.J. Logan, Brittan Golden

T.J. Logan was the fastest running back in the 2016 NFL draft and should immediately help Arizona out on kickoff returns now that David Johnson has moved to offense full-time. Golden is a versatile, reliable veteran insurance policy.

Punt Returners: Patrick Peterson, John Brown

Peterson entered the league with a bang, scoring four punt return touchdowns as a rookie and averaging nearly 16 yards per return. Since then, he's failed to recapture that kind of explosive impact, and last year Arizona for the first time started splitting his duties with speedy WR John Brown.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT DJ Humphries, LG Mike Iupati, C AQ Shipley, RG Evan Boehm, RT Jared Veldheer
Key Backups: John Wetzel, Will Holden [R], Ulrick John, Daniel Munyer

Left guard Mike Iupati remains a premium run blocker and one of the most dynamic interior players in the game. The tackles, Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries, both ended last season on the injured reserve. This season the coaching staff wants to swap Veldheer and Humphries and will give both players every opportunity to learn their new positions. Center A.Q. Shipley is undersized but savvy. The Cardinals' offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from the start of last season, with the lone exception being the right guard spot previously held by Evan Mathis, who retired in the offseason. Evan Boehm started 15 games in relief last season and played well enough to earn the starting job this season. Ulrick John and John Wetzel have game experience at tackle and should vie to be next player off the bench. Overall, this unit has the talent to rank among the best in football, should they stay healthy.

Team Defense

The Cardinals D/ST was powered by three huge outbursts (including one in Week 17) to another strong fantasy season, but that could change in 2017 with the loss of Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, DJ Swearinger, and Marcus Cooper in free agency. The front three is lacking experience and quality, but the team did add an elite pass rush/coverage linebacker in the first round of the draft in Haason Reddick to bolster an outstanding pair of rush linebackers, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Whether the Cardinals can stay among the league leaders in sacks after finishing #1 in 2016 will hinge on their ability to replace Campbell adequately from a relatively nondescript cast up front. Free agent pickup Antoine Bethea and second-round safety/corner/stick of dynamite Budda Baker will help replace the losses in the secondary, but the second corner is still a liability. Tyrann Mathieu is the best playmaker in the secondary and perhaps he will regain form after he was never quite himself in a 2016 campaign that less than a year removed from a second ACL tear in December 2015. The Cardinals will be drafted as a top 10 D/ST again this year, but they will rely on some new names to maintain that status.

Defensive Line

Starters: Frostee Rucker DE, Robert Nkemdiche DE, Corey Peters NT
Backups: Josh Mauro DE, Xavier Williams DL, Rodney Gunter NT, Olsen Pierre DL

Starting DL: The 2017 season represents the end of an era, with the departure of Pro Bowl DE Calais Campbell. The ex-Bengal Rucker is a veteran journeyman that turns 34 during opening month. At this point, his greatest strength is experience. The 2016 first round pick Nkemdiche will get the call to replace the 6'8", "Too Tall" Jones-like Campbell, but he has a different constellation of physical attributes, athletic traits, skill set and game. The former Mississippi star Nkemdiche was one of the consensus highest recruited prospects in the nation at any position, but nearly fell to day two of the draft due to multiple off field red flags. If not for those character concerns, he would have been selected significantly higher. The Cardinals have enjoyed phenomenal success with a comparable once troubled prospect, and brilliant, playmaking DB Tyrann Mathieu has reaped huge dividends (when healthy). Peters was a third round pick of the Falcons from Kentucky, where he played for the first half decade of his NFL career before signing a three year contract with Arizona in 2015. His first season was wiped out by a pre-season ruptured Achilles tendon. In the 3-4 alignment, Peters will be tasked more with run stuffing and block eating. If he is effective, it will be by enabling teammates like Nkemdiche around him and ILBs Karlos Dansby and Deone Bucannon behind him to make more plays.

Backup DL: The Cardinals have an underwhelming group of backups, although they will likely be relying on them more than they would want after Calais Campbell left in free agency. Mauro was signed to a modest two-year extension in the offseason. Gunter should also get a lot of snaps to help fill the massive hole left in Campbell's spot. One of them could even start over Nkemdiche if the second-year boom/bust prospect isn't ready to play a core role. Stinson has flashed top-line play at times, but he has to stay healthy and avoid down stretches of play. He's in a contract year. Pierre is a developmental player that the team liked enough to keep all season even though he didn't play a snap in a regular season game. He could displace one of the more experienced depth options with a good summer.


Starters: Chandler Jones OLB, Markus Golden OLB, Deone Bucannon ILB, Karlos Dansby ILB
Backups: Kareem Martin OLB, Haason Reddick ILB [R], Josh Bynes ILB, Philip Wheeler ILB

Starting LBs: Deone Bucannon has been a big hit for the Cardinals and in IDP leagues after the team converted the 2014 first-rounder from safety to one of the prototype "money linebacker". In May, he had surgery to correct a lingering ankle issue that the team hoped would heal with rest in the offseason. That could endanger his availability for Week 1. In any event, Karlos Dansby will start next to him after the Cardinals brought him back in free agency. He has been a productive player in the later part of his career and should have lots of tackle opportunity behind a subpar defensive line. If Bucannon isn't ready for Week 1, the team should turn to #13 overall pick Haason Reddick, who profiles similiarly to one-time Cardinals star Daryl Washington, a player that was reinstated by the league then released by Arizona this offseason. The Cardinals outside linebacker duo is one of the best among the league's 3-4 defenses. Chandler Jones was a smashing success with 11 sacks and numerous splash plays in his first season with the team and got a five year extension with 53 million guaranteed for his efforts. Markus Golden turned his savvy high-effort edge play into 12.5 sacks last year, providing a top-end complement to Jones.

Backup LBs: Reddick could be a Week 1 starter if Bucannon isn't ready to go, but if Bucannon's ankle is recovered, Reddick will likely mix in as a situational rusher and could eventually push Dansby for playing time. Kareem Martin is likely to be the only backup outside linebacker because Reddick offers depth as an edge rusher. Gabe Martin and Fua will compete to be the fifth inside linebacker if the team decides to carry one due to Bucannon's potential inability to be ready for the start of the season, with Martin having an extra dimension to offer as a converted outside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Tyrann Mathieu FS, Antoine Bethea SS, Patrick Peterson CB, Justin Bethel/Brandon Williams CB
Backups: Tyvon Branch SS, Budda Baker FS/CB [R], Rudy Ford DB [R], Tramon Williams CB

Starting DBs: The Cardinals lost Tony Jefferson to the Ravens in free agency and signed veteran Antoine Bethea to replace him. Bethea is a very durable player and competent in all aspects of the game. He is a step down from Jefferson, but the Cardinals signed him to a reasonable three-year, 12.75 million dollar deal with four million guaranteed. They hope to make up the difference with the return of the Tyrann Mathieu they haven't seen since his 2015 ACL tear. He was never quite his old self last year before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. Patrick Peterson is one of the league's best corners, but the spot up for him is up for grabs between Bethel and Williams. The winner should be one of the most targeted corners in the division. Bethel should be the favorite with more experience and some improved play late in 2016, but Williams is young and could develop enough to make up the gap in the offseason.

Backup DBs: The Cardinals still have one of the strongest safety groups in the league despite the loss of Jefferson and DJ Swearinger in free agency. Branch is quality depth when healthy, which has been an issue in recent years due a groin problem. The team traded up in the second round to get Baker, a future starter potentially as early as next year. He can play slot corner, rush the passer, play the deep zone, and blow up plays a la Bob Sanders, but like Sanders he is undersized and concerns about durability caused him to fall to the second-round despite first-round tape. The team will need some of their ragtag group of backup corners to step up, including Miller, who played some safety last year and should make the team because of his versatility. The competition could include the once great but now subpar Tramon Williams, Sixth-round pick Rudy Ford who ran a 4.4 40 at his pro day, and Shelton, who got a 25,000 dollar signing bonus as an undrafted player after the Cardinals were not able to draft him because of the lost picks they gave up to move up for Baker.

Last modified: 2017-09-05 09:59:12