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Player Spotlight: Carson Palmer

A detailed examination of Carson Palmer's fantasy prospects for the 2016 season

Setting the Stage

Carson Palmer was highly recruited out of high school and had scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Miami and many others, but ultimately stayed in-state and attended the University of Southern California. He became the starter for the Trojans late in his freshman season and eventually passed for over 10,000 yards and 65 TDs.

Palmer capped off his collegiate career with an amazing senior season in 2002, passing for 3,942 yards and 33 TDs and also running for another four TDs. He also became the fifth Trojan player and first quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. He followed up that honor in the spring by being drafted #1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. His combination of prototypical size and outstanding arm strength could not be overlooked. He surprisingly sat out his entire rookie season, being mentored by starting quarterback Jon Kitna (who won Comeback Player of the year) and learning under the tutelage of first year Head Coach Marvin Lewis and Quarterback Coach Ken Zampese.

Palmer was ready the next year and started every game through week 14, when he suffered a knee sprain. His play steadily improved over the following three seasons, despite suffering a horrific knee injury in their playoff game with the in January of 2006. After the surgery, his own surgeon declared, "It's not just like it was a torn ACL, it's a magnitude more difficult to recover from and repair. It can and has ended careers, without a doubt." Palmer worked extremely hard and despite being injured in January, amazingly did not miss a game the next season. A year later, he suffered a broken nose and then played three games with elbow issues, before finally being shut down after only four games. The elbow injury was later diagnosed as a partially torn ligament and tendon. Palmer opted not to have Tommy John surgery and instead decided to let the elbow fully rest, allowing it to heal on its own. In March of the next year, he declared himself 100% healthy, but his play in 2009 was frequently criticized and his once outstanding arm strength began to be questioned. His completion percentage and yards per attempt each fell as low as his rookie season numbers.

Early in the 2010 season, Palmer’s play improved somewhat and the Bengals won two of their first three games. Later though, they endured a ten-game losing streak and ended the season with only four wins. Palmer was clearly frustrated and in January, demanded to be traded, reportedly saying "I have $80 million in the bank, I don't have to play for money. I'll play for the love of the game, but that would have to be elsewhere." A long standoff ensued between Palmer and Bengals President Mike Brown with neither backing down. Brown finally relented in October 2011 trading Palmer for the Raiders first round pick in 2012 and a conditional second round pick in 2013. Oakland was highly criticized for giving up so much to acquire a 31 year old quarterback on the decline.

Despite not playing football in almost a year and without sufficient time to learn the playbook or practice, Palmer came off the bench in his first game, but played poorly. The Raider's bye week followed and Palmer worked hard those two weeks to learn the offense. Although he had many turnovers, he passed for a career high 8.39 ypa averaging 275 yards passing per game. The Raiders had a poor season in his second season there, but Palmer played reasonably well passing for over 4,000 yards for the first time in five years.

Despite Palmer’s improved play, the combination of the Raiders mediocre record with his acquisition cost led to him being traded to Arizona for a conditional 7th round draft pick. Palmer has resurrected his career with the Cardinals, passing for an average of 4,473 and 30 TDs in his two healthy seasons (2013 and 2015). Palmer set career highs in 2015, passing for 4,671 yards, 35 TDs and averaging 8.68 ypa.

The following table provides Carson Palmer's statistics for the five years since he left Cincinnati.

Year Team Games Comp Att % Comp Yards ypa TDs ints rushes yards TDs
2011

Oakland

10 199 328 60.7% 2,751 8.39 13 16 16 20 1
2012 Oakland 15 345 565 61.1% 4,018 7.11 22 14 18 36 1
2013 Arizona 16 362 572 63.3% 4,274 7.47 24 22 27 3 0
2014 Arizona 6 141 224 62.9% 1,626 7.26 11 3 8 25 0
2015 Arizona 16 342 538 63.6% 4,671 8.68 35 11 25 24 1
Total   63 1,389 2,227 62.4% 17,340 7.79 105 66 94 108 3

Looking Forward to 2016

Carson Palmer’s career year ended it with a disastrous game as the Cardinals lost 49-15 to the Panthers in the NFC Championship game. Palmer threw four interceptions, including a pick six and lost two fumbles. He is a determined player and should bounce back strongly. Earlier this off-season, when asked about that game remarked, “You take it head on,” Palmer said. ”You’re honest and you take the heat and you move on. It is what it is. That’s the position. That’s the game.”

The Cardinals had one of the NFL’s top offensive lines last year and could be even better in 2016. Their play in the passing game is critical as Palmer must be protected well. The team surrendered only 27 sacks in 2015, tying for 4th best in that category.  

They also have an outstanding trio of wide receivers, led by Larry Fitzgerald who had 1,215 receiving yards last year and has topped 1,000 yards seven times with Arizona. Their second leading receiver was John Brown, who had 1,003 receiving yards and 7 TDs on 65 catches. Last year’s 3rd most productive receiver was Michael Floyd, who perhaps will be the team’s leader this year. Despite being injured early on, Floyd caught 52 passes for 849 yards and 6 TDs and was really productive down the stretch.

Positives

  • Palmer has been healthy and because of how last season ended is very motivated to succeed
  • The Cardinals have a very good offensive line and Palmer’s quick release should again limit his number of sacks
  • The strength of the offense is their excellent wide receiver trio

Negatives

  • The Cardinals strong defense (5th in yards allowed and 7th in scoring in 2015) could negatively impact their need for offensive production
  • Arizona has a strong running game and second year man David Johnson had a three game stretch near the end of last year where he averaged 23 rushes per game
  • Palmer is 36 years old and has suffered season ending injuries several times in his 12-year NFL career

 Projections

Name Games Comp Att Yards TDs ints Rushes Yards TDs
David Dodds 16 343 535 4,259 31 15 25 50 1
Bob Henry 16 344 540 4,500 32 10 22 20 0
Jason WOod 16 355 560 4,530 31 15 20 30 1
Maurile Tremblay 16 331 524 4,281 25 13 35 23 1
Stephen Holloway 16 334 530 4,274 33 12 20 20 1

Final thoughts

Despite Palmer’s outstanding season a year ago, he is the eighth or ninth quarterback taken in early fantasy drafts this year. You can take advantage of the abundance of quarterbacks available and perhaps wait until late in the seventh round (12-team leagues) and draft a quarterback who finished as QB5 a year ago and returns excellent receiving options and a great offensive line.

Other’s Thoughts

Matt Waldman in his Footballguys.com Player Comments – The improvement of the Cardinals’ offensive line coinciding with Carson Palmer’s third year in Arizona resulted in a career year for the veteran quarterback. There’s little reason to expect a major decline this year. In addition to the strong line play, Bruce Arians’ aggressive offense, a well-rounded receiving corps, and a deep core of running backs should give Palmer all the tools he needs to thrive.

Chris Wesseling, Around the NFL Writer Arians: Carson Palmer will return with vengeance

...it's fair to wonder if Carson Palmer will overcome the setback of a ghastly six-turnover performance in the Cardinals' NFC Championship Game loss. Will Palmer's postseason failures continue to haunt him? Or will the 36-year-old quarterback bounce back as the leader of a stacked Arizona roster? Coach Bruce Arians is confident it's the latter. "There's no doubt in my mind," Arians said after the season, via The Arizona Republic. "He'll come back with more vengeance than before the injury."

Sean Wagner-McGough on CBSSports.com Larry Fitzgerald says his future retirement is linked to Carson Palmer

...Fitzgerald indicated that his own retirement might be contingent on when Palmer chooses to walk away from the game. Speaking with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, the 32-year-old Cardinals' wide receiver couldn't give an exact estimate of when he'll retire, but clearly linked that decision to Palmer's own decision.

Fitzgerald said, "I'm hoping that we can win the Super Bowl this year and it would be no questions asked." Wait, no questions asked? So a victory in Super Bowl LI would mean the end of his storied career?

"I would still have to think about it and see where I was at," he said, before linking his fate to his quarterback's. "A lot of it's tied to Carson (Palmer) -- Carson's playing at a high level. I don't want to go through any other quarterback situations. It's been great to have the stability that we have now with the big fella, he's been playing light's out."