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2015 Team Report: Arizona Cardinals

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Palmer
Backup(s): Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas

Starting QB: Carson Palmer, the first overall pick by the Bengals in the 2003 draft, was a stellar fantasy quarterback early in his career, but the last time he finished in the top ten at his position was 2007. He's entering his third year with the Cardinals, after last season was cut short by an ACL injury -- the second of his career. By all accounts, the 35-year-old is on track to fully participate in training camp, and is expected to be the opening-day starter. Consider him to be a middling fantasy backup.

Backup QB: Drew Stanton will be the primary backup. The former Lion, Jet, and Colt is more physically talented than most backup quarterbacks, and was viewed as the Cardinals' possible starter when they signed him two offseasons ago, just before they signed Carson Palmer. At the third quarterback spot, Logan Thomas is viewed as a project. He has prototypical size and an outstanding arm along with decent mobility. He lacks accuracy, however, and struggled enough in practice last season that he played very little even when both Palmer and Stanton were out with injuries.

Running Backs

Starter: Andre Ellington
Backup(s): David Johnson [R], Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams, Marion Grice
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Andre Ellington was very effective as a rookie in 2013, both as a rusher and as a receiver. With a much larger workload in 2014, however, he did not hold up well. An injured foot hampered him for pretty much the whole season, and he is coming off of postseason sports-hernia surgery. He expects to be fully healthy by the opening of training camp. It is possible that Ellington's 199-pound frame is not equipped to handle a heavy workload, but the Cardinals did not draft a bigger back to commandeer early-down reps, so Ellington should get 20+ touches a game again this season. When healthy, Ellington is a skilled receiver who can split out wide on occasion, and is an electrifying runner in the open field.

Backup RBs: Third-round pick David Johnson is more talented than Stepfan Taylor or Kerwynn Williams. He is a good bet to be Andre Ellington's primary backup, and may also be the short-yardage (including goal-line) back since Ellington lacks power running inside. Johnson was a prolific pass-receiver out of the backfield in college, but probably won't have a big role in Arizona's passing game as long as Ellington is healthy. Stepfan Taylor lacks the athleticism to be a featured runner in the NFL. He is decent in short-yardage situations, but lacks the speed to get outside. While Taylor was the starter after Ellington went down, he was generally outplayed by Kerwynn Williams, who spent much of the season on the practice squad. When Williams got playing time late in the season, he showed decent quickness running inside. He will compete for a roster spot with Marion Grice, whose best attribute is his receiving ability out of the backfield.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald
Backups: John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson [R], Jaxon Shipley [R], Brittan Golden, Ryan Spadola [R], Travis Harvey [R]

Starting WRs: Both of the Cardinals' starting WRs return after disappointing seasons in 2014. Part of the problem was the poor quarterback situation, but Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd share in the blame. Fitzgerald appeared slow, and was limited mainly to inside routes underneath, making him easier to cover. At 32 years of age, he is unlikely to play faster in 2015. Michael Floyd, for his part, is an imposing athlete with the speed to stretch the field, but he dropped far too many balls last season, blowing a number of big-play opportunities. Floyd dislocated three fingers during training camp and may miss the first week or two of the regular season.

Backup WRs: John Brown was the team's most exciting play-maker on offense last season. He has exceptional quickness and is a nifty runner after the catch. The biggest obstacle to his fantasy success is that he is stuck sharing targets with Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald: he is probably an underdog to match the 102 targets he good last season. Jaron Brown has the inside track for the Cardinals' fourth receiver spot despite the addition of rookies J.J. Nelson and Jaxon Shipley. Nelson has blazing speed, but is viewed as a project who will contribute mostly in the return game as a rookie. Shipley has good hands and a willingness to go over the middle, but he's a tad undersized and is not much of a deep threat.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jermaine Gresham
Backups: Troy Niklas, Darren Fells, Gerald Christian [R]

The Cardinals have gotten poor production from their tight ends in recent memory. You have to go back to Freddie Jones, over a decade ago, to find an Arizon TE with decent fantasy value. Jermaine Gresham is the likely starter, but is mostly a blocker. He is recovering from offseason back surgery, and lacks the ability to get downfield as a receiver. Troy Niklas lost most of his rookie season due to injury. While he is a capable blocker, he is not exactly fleet of foot, and his upside potential as a receiver is severely limited. Backup Darren Fells is another blocking specialist. He got significant playing time in the final two games last season, but is not much of a receiver. Rookie Gerald Christian has the best speed of the group and has decent hands, but probably won't get enough snaps to have any fantasy value.

Place Kicker

Chandler Catanzaro: Catanzaro won the kicking job as an undrafted rookie last year, and he made good on the Cardinals' expectations, hitting 29 of 33 field goals and carrying the job into 2015 in undisputed fashion. The Cardinals offense should create more scoring opportunities if Carson Palmer can stay healthy, and the indoors home stadium plus relatively tough schedule factors should only help Catanzaro get even more field goal opportunities this year. Catanzaro was one of the worst kickers in the league at getting touchbacks, with only a 50% rate, so he's a good kicker for opposing kick returners to face. Catanzaro is not usually drafted in the top 10 kickers and should be there if you are the last to fill that spot.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: David Johnson [R], Brittan Golden, J.J. Nelson [R], John Brown, Kerwyn Williams

With last season's returner Ted Ginn returning to Carolina, the Cardinals have speedsters to compete for the return duties in 2015. Rookie J.J. Nelson was the fastest player at the combine and Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has referred to Nelson's return skills as "tremendous", but has ended up as the backup. Second year receiver Brittan Golden ended atop the team's depth chart, but running back David Johnson is handling the actual returns.

Punt Returners: Patrick Peterson, J.J. Nelson [R], Brittan Golden, Tyrann Mathieu,

Safety Tyrann Mathieu suffering a pair of torn ligaments on a punt return two seasons ago caused coach Bruce Arians to rethink the use of starters like Patrick Peterson in the return game. The Cardinals went with J.J. Nelson as their starting punt returner entering the season, though by Week 2 head coach Bruce Arians was already leaning back towards Peterson.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Mike Iupati, C A.Q. Shipley, RG Jonathan Cooper, RT D.J. Humphries [R]
Key Backups: T Bobby Massie, G Earl Watford, C Ted Larsen, G Anthony Steen, T Tavon Rooks, T Bradley Sowell, T Cameron Bradfield, G Antoine McClain

The Cardinals improved their lineup by poaching Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati from the division rival 49ers. Iupati is a Pro Bowl honoree, known as a mauling run blocker who can occasionally be beat in pass protection. With Iupati and massive left tackle Jared Veldheer, the team has an excellent left side of the line, and that should be where the team will be looking to run behind in short yardage situations. The team added another large body in first round right tackle D.J. Humphries out of Florida. Humphries was known as a pro-ready pass protector and should be able to beat out Bobbie Massie for the starting job. On the interior, the team moved on from Lyle Sendlein and there should be a tough-guy battle between Ted Larsen and A.Q. Shipley. I'm giving the edge to Shipley but it could go either way. Finally former first round pick Jon Cooper looks to have the edge on the right guard spot over Earl Watford. Cooper is reportedly in good shape and if he can live up to his draft selection, this could be a very good ine. For now I am grading him out as a decent starter, but he obviously has the potential to be much better or much worse. Overall this is a mid tier line that could move up to the top tier if the center, right guard and right tackle positions can be locked down early in preseason, and the line has a chance to gel together.

Team Defense

The Cardinals remained a top 10 fantasy defense/special teams in most formats last year despite playmaking safety Tyrann Mathieu not looking like himself in 2014. He'll be back at full speed in 2015 to help a talented secondary make up for one of the weakest linebacker and edge rushing corps in the league. The Cardinals defense has been excellent at limiting opponent scoring, finishing in the top five, but a bit softer in yardage allowed, ranking 23rd in the league. They also produced four defensive touchdowns and had six games with at least two interceptions last year. As long as Carson Palmer can stay healthy (and an improved offensive line will help), the Cardinals defense will be an especially strong play at home and everyweek candidate in redraft leagues. They also had three big outburst games and tend to pour it on at home when they get an opponent on the ropes.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Calais Campbell, DE Frostee Rucker, NT Corey Peters
Backups: DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE/DT Corey Redding, NT Rodney Gunter [R], NT Alameda Ta'amu

Starting DL: Campbell has rare speed, strength and athleticism for his length (a nearly Ed "Too Tall" Jones-like 6'8"), and is one of the taller All-Pro players in league history. He has the movement skills and COD (change of direction) ability of a much smaller player, and as a prep hoops star, led the state of Colorado in rebounds. Campbell has averaged close to 50 tackles and 7+ sacks in the past half decade. The former Miami Hurricane star was the 50th player taken in the 2008 draft, turns 29 in 2015, is in season four of a five year contract and still playing at an extremely high level. He is the lone remaining incumbent starting DL in Arizona, a team leader and key contributor to their 2014 top 5 rank in scoring defense (18.7 PPG), 11-5 regular season record and playoff berth. Rucker is a former third rounder, by way of Cincinnati, turns 32 in 2015 and lacks the length of some of the other Cardinals defensive linemen, at 6'3", 280 lbs. Last year he set a career high with 5 sacks in seven starts, adding 2 FFs. Former 2010 first rounder Dan Williams signed with the Raiders in free agency, and Peters is a former Atlanta third rounder from Kentucky with the size (6'3", 305 lbs.) and positional versatility to play DT/DE in their scheme. He has superior athleticism and quickness compared to some nose tackles to make plays both in the run game and pressuring the quarterback, but it awaits to be seen how effective and stout he can be when defenses run straight at him.

Backup DL: Shaughnessy is a former first-team Freshman All-American at Wisconsin, and third round pick of Oakland in 2009, where his best season was in 2010 (7 sacks and 2 FFs). He signed with Arizona in 2013, and had 3 sacks in his desert debut campaign, but was sackless last year, playing half the season due to injury. He is about 25 lbs. heavier than when he was drafted, now at 6'5", 285 lbs., and has been repurposed by the Cards from OLB to play DE. Redding is a 34 year old DE like the departed Darnell Dockett, the ex-Lion is another third rounder, now a jouneyman on his fifth team. A former USA Today Defensive Player of the Year, Redding also won state titles in the discus as a gifted Texas prep. He has a background outside and inside on the DL, but has been deployed as a 3-4 DE in the past half decade, where he has the requisite size (6'4", 285 lbs.). Gunter is a rookie and represents a rare day three DL for Arizona. A non-invitee to the combine from football factory Delaware State, he has an excellent physical stature for a 3-4 DE at 6'5", 305 lbs. Ex-Steeler fourth rounder Ta'amu was a difference maker against the run in 2013, but after a torn ACL at the end of that season, the conservatively, generously listed 6'3", 350 lbs. NT got too big. HC Arians candidly stated that he ate himself out of a job.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Sean Weatherspoon, ILB Kevin Minter, OLB Alex Okafor, OLB Lorenzo Alexander
Backups: ILB Glenn Carson, ILB Darryl Sharpton, ILB Daryl Washington [suspended], OLB LaMarr Woodley, OLB Kareem Martin, OLB Markus Golden [R], DE Shaq Riddick [R]

Starting LBs: Weatherspoon looked like he had a bright future with the Falcons a few years ago, but has been a defensive version of Sam Bradford health-wise in recent seasons, missing half of 2013 and all of 2014. The former first rounder inked a one year deal for nearly $4 million, and is in his relative prime at 27, but is returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon (some players like Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and retired linebacker Takeo Spikes came back strong and returned to form following this injury, while others, for instance ex-San Francisco, Oakland free agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree, appear to have lost some burst and explosiveness). Weatherspoon's best and only complete season was in 2011, when he had 86 tackles and 4 sacks, though he was projecting similar numbers through 13 games in 2012. At his best, he has the speed, size and athleticism to run, hit and cover, and is the most naturally talented ILB in Arizona since the aging Karlos Dansby departed (for the second time), and Daryl Washington was serially suspended. Minter is a 24 year old, 2013 second rounder slow to break out, but he was stuck behind All Pro ILBs Washington and Dansby and barely played as a rookie except for special teams, than had a debilitating torn pectoral injury last year. Even with greater health and experience, he lacks the difference making sideline-to-sideline speed in the run game, range in coverage and three down athleticism and skill set of his predecessors (the 2014 first rounder Deone Bucannon was used effectively as a surrogate ILB in the three safety big nickel sub package), which caps his upside. Okafor is also 24 and from the class of 2013. Taken in the fourth round, he had a breakout soph campaign (yielding 8 sacks), after missing most of his rookie season with a torn biceps, and missing the first three games of last year with a quadriceps injury. Alexander is 32, paid his dues as a Pro Bowl special teamer in Washington, can play every LB position in the Cards scheme, and signed a three year contract in 2013. He missed most of his first season and was hobbled during his second with the dreaded Lisfranc mid-foot fracture, but reportedly is feeling friskier in the off-season. Hard has been the lot of the Arizona LBs in recent seasons, injury has been a recurring theme for several years, where the position group has suffered as much attrition and turnover as the drum chair for Spinal Tap. The Cards have been known to rotate a kaleidoscopic array of different LBs situationally in various combinations, which can blur the lines between starter and backup (and even experimented with positional changes, such as LB Shaughnessy returning to DE, and DL Kareem Martin converting to LB).

Backup LBs: Given Weatherspoon's checkered medical file, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Carson or Sharpton pressed into action at some point. There has been no recent news regarding a potential reinstatement of Washington after a substance abuse suspension cost him the entire 2014 season, but even if/when that happens, he will be subject to a looming suspension from a domestic violence incident. Woodley, after a single injury-plagued season in Oakland, playing DE for the first time since college, followed a familiar trek and pilgrimage for ex-Steelers - former Pittsburgh coordinators Ken Whisenhunt (2004-2006) and Bruce Arians (2007-2011), the previous and current HC in Arizona, began and continue the tradition, respectively. The Michigan All-American, second rounder and All-Pro has nice size at 6'2" 265 lbs., and averaged 11 sacks from 2008-2011 (with a combined 6 FFs, 4 INTs and 2 TDs). Though "just" 30, after missing only one game in seasons two through four, Woodley has logged 24 DNPs, equivalent to a season and a half, in the four years since. Martin also has a track background (second in the high jump at the North Carolina state meet) and intriguing combination of length, size and explosiveness (6'6", 272 lbs., 35.5" vertical jump, and 10'9" broad jump). He is yet another third round pick, as are three members of the DL (with Rucker, Redding and Shaughnessy). Rookies Golden and Riddick, taken in the second and fifth round, represent another double barreled reload at the position in day two and three of the draft (like 2013, with Minter and Okafor). Despite an obligatory injury, he had very similar production to bookend Missouri LB, first rounder and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Shane Ray. Golden had more tackles (78), similar TFL numbers (20) and they became the first dueling double-digit duo in the sack column in school history (he lacks Ray's electric get off, suddenness and burst, but is very instinctive, and compensates with a non-stop motor and relentless, tenacious hustle).

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Deone Bucannon, FS Rashad Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Jerraud Powers
Backups: FS/CB Tyrann Mathieu, SS Tony Jefferson, FS Chris Clemons, CB Justin Bethel, CB Damond Smith

Starting DBs: Bucannon and Johnson were lining up with the starters in OTAs, though HC Arians has suggested not reading too much into the safety depth chart (and not just in the offseason). The coaching staff thinks there are four starting caliber safeties on the Arizona roster, but Bucannon can be deployed as a LB in the big nickel, and Tyrann Mathieu as a nickel corner in the standard variant, depending on situation. The former All-American is an impressive physical specimen and athlete, and was the biggest (6'1", 210 lbs.), fastest (sub-4.5) and most explosive (36.5" vertical jump) of the four first round safeties from the class of 2014. Bucannon has an unusually complete skill set and well rounded game, simultaneously a thumper/playmaker, leading the Pac-12 in tackles, and tying for the conference lead in INTs as a senior (15 combined pass thefts during his Washington State tenure). Johnson began his career as a walk-on RB at Alabama and ended up team captain, with a resume eerily similar to Buchanon (All-American safety, led the team in tackles as a junior and had 11 combined INTs his last two seasons). The 2009 third rounder's 16 starts last year were just five short of his total during his previous half decade in the league. Johnson's 82 tackles and 4 INTs (9 picks since 2012) were both career highs. In a league chock-full of varying degrees of freakish athletes (making it a somewhat overused term), Peterson is the genuine article. Don't accept cheap substitutes. Despite being a WLB-like 6'1", 220 lbs., the former USA Today Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous First-team All-American and fifth overall selection clocked a smoking mid-4.3 40 (with a 38" vertical) at the Combine. He is also a standout punt returner with five NFL records (making him one of the most electrifying and dangerous DBs in the league with the ball in his hands), and has even taken some snaps on offense due to being such an athletic prodigy. Peterson has made the Pro Bowl all four seasons in the NFL, is a two time All-Pro with a combined 15 INTs since 2011, one of the consensus top CBs in the league, with Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden, and is the youngest of that All-Pro quartet, turning just 25 in 2015. Powers is a former Colt third rounder from Auburn (making it three of four starters, and four of the top five secondary members from the SEC, with at least third round pedigree). He turns 28 in 2015, and lacks prototypical size at 5'10", 187 lbs. The Cardinals have built a deep, talented and young secondary, similar to the template of NFC West divisional nemesis Seattle.

Backup DBs: Mathieu is reportedly running as effortlessly and moving as fluidly as he did before suffering a torn ACL towards the end of his promising 2013 rookie campaign, and as noted above, could easily overtake Johnson and emerge as the starting FS by the time the 2015 season rolls around. Another gifted athlete (one of the top prep long jumpers in the state of Louisiana), he quickly earned a reputation as a playmaker at LSU. As a true freshman, Mathieu was all over the field and voted the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the 2010 Cotton Bowl after filling up the box score with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FFs, 1 FR and 1 INT. In 2011, he had 60 solo tackles, and was once again a big play machine, with 1.5 sacks, 5 FFs, 4 FRs (with 2 TD returns), 2 INTs, 2 punt return TDs, MVP of the SEC Championship Game and LSUs second straight Bednarik Award winner for the top defensive player in college, after former and current teammate, Patrick Peterson. Despite sub-optimal size (especially for an NFL safety) at a diminutive 5'9", 185 lbs., he is scrappy, mixes it up effectively with much larger players and can be an explosive hitter and little stick of dynamite on the field, earning him the moniker "Honey Badger" in college. Mathieu likely would have gone higher than the third round, if not for his size, and more importantly, being kicked off the team for reported multiple drug test failures, followed by an arrest for possession of marijuana. Jefferson was able to stave off Bucannon for part of last season, and is a rare (for the Cards) no pedigree, former 2013 UFA from Oklahoma. At 5'11", 212 lbs., he is the same height but thicker than Johnson, and he amassed a robust 72 tackles despite starting just half the regular season. Bethel is a 2 X Pro Bowler, an All-Pro and may be the top special teams ace in the NFL. He has no starts at CB in his three seasons, but has ideal size to complement Peterson (6'0", 200 lbs.). HC Arians has been raving about the talent and upside of the former 2012 sixth rounder from football factory Presbyterian, so Bethel could be in the mix to start in the future, if not 2015.

Last modified: 2015-09-21 19:46:37