Spotlight: Tim Hightower

posted by Will Grant on Jul 21st


Will Grant's thoughts

It's hard to imagine that a playoff caliber team could generate so many questions on offense as the Arizona Cardinals have this season. The departure of Kurt Warner has caused a giant hole at QB, and there are serious questions about his replacements: Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson. Even worse: Arizona's #2 WR Anquan Boldin left via free agency as well, making things even rougher on Warner's replacement. This is a team that had 4200 yards passing and 28 passing TDS in 2009. They are not expected to come close to that again this season.

To help relieve some of the pressure on the passing game, the Cardinals are going to have to run the ball more this season. The question now becomes: How will Arizona split the carries between #1 back Tim Hightower, second year man Chris Wells, and young, but emerging back LaRod Stephens-Howling. The sad answer for fantasy owners is that the Cardinals will probably be a full blown RBBC this year, limiting the effectiveness of all of them.

Hightower is the guy with the most experience of the three. He was the top fantasy back on the team, posting 4.2 yards per carry, over 1000 yards from scrimmage and finishing second in TDs (eight) to Larry Fitzgerald (13). Hightower's yards per carry improved from 2.8 his rookie season to 4.2 last year and his total receptions jumped from 34 to 63. He had a rushing TD in each playoff game for the Cardinals, and finished as the #22 fantasy back for the season.

However, for 2010, don't expect this kind of production. Chris Wells was the 31st overall pick last season, and is expected to get the bulk of the rushing attempts this season. By the end of training camp, you can expect that Hightower will be used more on passing downs and as a 3rd down, change of pace type of back, with Wells getting about twice as many carries per game that Hightower has.

Even worse for Hightower, the word out of the Arizona camp is that Stephens-Howling has looked good in the early mini-camps, and that the Cardinals may try to use him more on 3rd downs. Stephens-Howling is drawing comparisons to San Diego back Darren Sproles, and the Cardinals believe that he can be dangerous if they can get him the ball in open space.

When he's playing, Hightower actually has been a pretty productive fantasy back. He has 18 rushing TDS over the past two seasons, averages almost four receptions per game with a 6.8 yard average and has not missed a game in each of his first two seasons. He even has a rushing or receiving TD in five of the six playoff games that he has played in over the last two years. The problem for fantasy owners is that for 2010, it looks like Hightower is going to be the odd man out. With Wells getting the bulk of the rushing work, and LSH cutting into his reception totals, Hightower's fantasy value is dropping faster than BP's stock prices.

Positives

  • Solid improvement in his second season, culminating in a RB22 finish last season. A nose for the end zone, scoring 18 rushing TDS over the last two years.
  • Arizona will need to run the ball more this season to take the pressure off the passing game, resulting in more opportunities.
  • The most experienced RB on the roster, with solid receiving skills. Two qualities that a struggling QB will need to survive this season.

Negatives

  • Firmly encased in a RBBC this season, with the bulk of the rushing carries going to Chris Wells, and LaRod Stephens-Howling cutting into his pass receptions.
  • Serious questions in the passing game may mean seven and eight man fronts.
  • If the Cardinals face 3rd and long more often because the offense is struggling, they may push the ball down the field to the WRs more, resulting in fewer reception opportunities for RBs.

Final thoughts

Although Hightower finished as RB22 this season, most people expect that his stats are going to take a serious hit this season. His current ADP is currently 111 overall, with plenty of leagues avoiding him until well after the 10th round. That's probably about right, given the number of different obstacles that he's going to face this year. However, the key thing to remember is that he does have value, and if you're in a league that is avoiding him after the 10th round, don't hesitate to take him. He can still put up solid numbers and there is no guarantee that Chris Wells is taking a big step forward this season. If he can't hold up or runs into trouble, Hightower could move back into the lineup. He has definitely proven that he can run the ball and get into the end zone. Approach him with caution but don't dismiss him completely this season.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

First off I should say I'm not going to be drafting Beanie this year. Arizona has gotten worse on both sides of the ball. Although I do think Beanie is a talent I just don't think a team can transition into a smash mouth team with ease like almost everyone* seems to think they can. That being said, I do believe he's a far superior talent to Hightower. Tim caught 1/6th of his receptions in one game early in the season, IIRC. It is not like Beanie is an inept receiver. I don't think the receptions split is going to be as drastic as some seem to believe. I also don't think Hightower is the default goal line back, either. I truly think Beanie would be better suited just based on explosiveness alone, not to mention he's very possibly stronger. So I really don't see a problem with Tim's ADP of RB45. RB22 is his ceiling, barring injury. Even in the RB40 range I like to believe I'm drafting a guy that has at least RB2 upside. If you draft Hightower, you do so knowing he is going to be a bye week filler at best unless Beanie gets injured. I highlighted that because, although he didn't totally miss many games, Beanie was often injured in college. He'd play through a lot of it, but was less effective. At least that's what I remember about him. Had he not been injured so often I don't see why he wouldn't have been drafted higher. Anyway, I see him as a higher than average injury risk which gives Hightower a little more upside than what appears at first glance. But still, this isn't the Warner Cardinals. This team will struggle to move the ball and will be playing from behind. The only thing they've got going for them is a weak division. So I have a hard time advising drafting anyone on this team.

nittanylion said:

Given the attention that Defenses are going to pay to the running game, and the punishment he's likely to take, I don't think Wells can handle more than 50% of the Rushing Attempts generated by the offense, and I think Whisenhunt and Grimm are smart enough not to put that much work on him, because without Wells, they're really up the creek. I think LS-H only sees situational touches. The Cardinals are going to get minimal Offensive Production out of the personnel they have at FB and TE. By the look of things, IMO, Hightower looks to be the de-facto TE in this Offense. I think he's going to be on the field a TON, and once you're out there, anything is possible. If I'm right, then Hightower could see close to 50% of the carries generated by the Offense, certainly possible to be a relatively even split with Wells.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

The Arizona Cardinals would be smart if they try and rush the ball more this year. I think their defense took a hit after last season losing some players via free agency and the loss of their potential HOF QB makes for running the ball a good idea. The Cardinals have a pretty good offensive line, so I think they could find success here. I do think the primary ball carrier will be Beanie Wells but Hightower will get his and I do think Matt Leinart will check down to his RB's a lot. The Cardinals are aided by what appears to be a weak schedule, so drafting any players from this team you can at least take solace in that.

FreeBaGel said:

The Arizona short yardage running game as a whole has put up similar, if not better numbers to these over the same span. Edgerrin James, who's biggest weakness in his entire game is his short yardage running (which is one of the primary reasons for Peyton's record setting TD season) which has historically been awful, put up great short yardage numbers in 2008 in Arizona as well, as did Beanie last year. In fact, Edge and Beanie have put up better short yardage conversion ratios than Hightower over the last two years.


Tim Hightower projections

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