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Player Spotlight: Carson Palmer

A detailed look at Carson Palmer's fantasy prospects for 2013

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 touchdowns.

Palmer capped off his collegiate career with an amazing senior season in 2002, passing for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns and also running for another four touchdowns. 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 No. 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 against the Steelers in the playoffs 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. That 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 questioned. His completion percentage and yards per attempt each fell as low as his rookie season numbers.

The next year Palmer improved his play somewhat and the team won two of their first three games. Later though, the Bengals endured a 10-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 who most thought was 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 the first game after the trade and played poorly. Despite that inauspicious start, the team's bye week followed and Palmer worked hard those two weeks to learn the offense. Although he had many turnovers, his play otherwise improved quickly and the Raiders improved to finish with a record of 8-8, but lost the tie-breaker with the Dolphins and missed the playoffs.

The Raiders had a poor season last year, but Palmer played reasonably well. The team posted a record of 4-12 and lost six in a row after being 3-4. Palmer seemed to play better in his two seasons at Oakland than his last few in Cincinnati, throwing crisper passes and even showing better arm strength on deep throws. However, the cost to acquire Palmer together with the lack of success and his upcoming salary all were factors that led to him being traded to the Cardinals for a conditional 7th round draft pick. After the trade, Palmer signed a three-year $26 Million contract, with $10 Million guaranteed.

The following table provides Carson Palmer's current career statistics:

Year Team Gms Comp Att % Comp Pass Yds ypa Pass TDs Ints Rush Yds TDs
2004 Cin 14 263 432 60.9% 2,897 6.7 18 18 18 47 1
2005 Cin 16 345 509 67.8% 3,836 7.5 32 12 34 41 1
2006 Cin 16 324 520 62.3% 4,035 7.8 28 13 26 37 0
2007 Cin 16 373 575 64.9% 4,131 7.2 26 20 24 10 0
2008 Cin 5 75 129 58.1% 731 5.7 3 4 6 38 0
2009 Cin 16 282 466 60.5% 3,094 6.6 21 13 39 93 3
2010 Cin 16 362 586 61.8% 3,970 6.8 26 20 32 50 0
2011 Oak 10 199 328 60.7% 2,751 8.4 13 16 16 20 1
2012 Oak 15 345 565 61.1% 4,018 7.1 22 14 18 36 1
Totals   124 2,568 4,110 62.5% 29,463 7.2 189 130 213 372 7

Looking Forward to 2013

All signs in the spring point to a successful partnership being the Cardinals, new Head Coach Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer. Coach Arians said "He's tough as nails. As good a deep-ball thrower as I've seen, really accurate with the deep ball. He still has it." As for Palmer after OTAs, he said "I love the head coach, he keeps it real. He already has the team wrapped around his finger." The offensive philosophy fits Palmer's skill set and the Cardinals have a solid receiving corps that also works with the scheme. Everyone is looking forward to seeing Larry Fitzgerald play with a good quarterback. Palmer will be the seventh quarterback to start for the team since Kurt Warner retired in 2009. The team also has Andre Roberts, who caught 64 passes a year ago for 759 yards and 5 touchdowns and 2012 first round selection, Michael Floyd, who came on strong down the stretch catching 37 passes for 471 yards over the last nine games. The Cardinals also have a decent receiving option at tight end in Rob Housler who caught 45 passes a year ago.

The team's offensive line will play a key role in the success of both the Cardinals and Carson Palmer. They gave up a league worst 58 sacks in 2012, but did add first round selection, Jon Cooper (seventh overall) and get Levi Brown back, returning from injury last season. The ability of the line to give Palmer some time to throw, particularly the anticipated focus on the deep routes will be critical.


  • Palmer fits the offensive scheme and is motivated to succeed
  • Palmer should be more capable of quick decisions than the quarterbacks last season and avoid taking as many sacks
  • The strength of the offensive is found in their excellent wide receivers, who are excited about the improvement in quarterback play


  • The Cardinals have a new head coach and offensive coordinator, so there could be a learning curve early in the season
  • Arizona must improve their offensive line so they can keep Palmer healthy


  Comp Att % Comp Pass Yds ypa Pass TDs Ints Rush Yds TDs
Holloway 336 560 60.0% 4,088 7.30 22 17 15 30 1
Message Board Consensus 352 585 60.2% 3,893 6.65 23 15 22 50 1

Final Thoughts

Palmer averaged 270 yards passing per game last season with the Raiders, including 31 yards in Week 16 when he was injured in the first quarter. With Arizona being considered the bottom team in the NFC West, they will likely be trailing in a lot of games. That consideration along with the anticipated offensive scheme suggests that the team will focus on the passing game, even before they are forced to. It's reasonable to anticipate Carson Palmer passing for the most yards in his career, but the number of touchdowns will likely be heavily dependent on the offensive line play and whether the team can sustain drives.

Message Board Commentary Link to the Carson Palmer Player Spotight thread in the Shark Pool Message Board

Ministry of Pain said: Palmer will start most of the games as long as he is healthy in Arizona. Bruce Arians the new HC will surely make things better. Still, Palmer is nothing more than a middle of the road guy at this point. A QB2 at best and possibly has some declining skills. This is not a path for success this year for most. Palmer's record the last 3 seasons is 12-28 as a starting QB. Palmer is not that mobile anymore so rush stats are moot here. I wouldn't be surprised if he got hurt behind this OL which despite the drafting of Cooper is not all that great.

Mr. Irrelevant said: I like Palmer as sneaky value in best-ball and/or deep roster leagues (he compiled the quietest 4,000-yard passing season in league history last year), but I won't be targeting him in any of my standard leagues for exactly that reason: even though I think he'll put up better per-game numbers than most other mid-range QB2s, I see little chance he plays out a full 16 games without injury. The Cards' O-line was the worst in football last year, according to both FO and my own lyin' eyes and they haven't taken giant steps since then to improve.  Bad O-line + immobile QB = recipe for trouble.

Couer de Lion said: I think people are jumping the gun with Bruce Arians being some kind of big upgrade also. He's a good solid offensive coach, sure. But so was Ken Whisenhunt. As a Steelers' homer I've seen plenty of both guys, and neither one is an Andy Reid / Mike Shanahan offensive guru type miracle worker. They're both in the same tier of good, competent, professional offensive coaches -- I agree that Palmer is a slight upgrade, and the o-line additions should help once they get up to speed, but this looks like a multiyear project to me. A lot of people being way too optimistic on AZ in general IMO.

amicsta said: Just to chime in briefly here, while palmer has some obvious negatives that have been stated, doesn't the scheme he's in and the weapons he has (fitzgerald obviously, but even floyd, roberts, and swope) seem like great fits for arians? Make you feel like he's bound to have a few big games at least? For what you'll be getting him as (qb2, maybe even a guy in a 3 way qbbc this year, I feel like that "pop" potential in any single game has value.