Spotlight: Carson Palmer

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 29th

Jason Wood's thoughts

Sometimes there is a disconnect between individual achievement and team goals. All too often, professional athletes say they want to win above all else, but their behavior proves otherwise when their personal stats and recognition suffer in spite of their team's successes. Carson Palmer deserves credit for the way he comported himself last year. Once thought of as an MVP-caliber passer, Palmer settled into the role of game manager last year as the Bengals improbably won the AFC North on the back of a strong running attack and opportunistic defense.

For most of this preseason, I wasn't very optimistic about Palmer's fantasy prospects for this season. The Bengals proved last year they didn't need to throw a lot (they were 26th in passing last year) to win, and their running game and defensive playmakers returned intact. Why mess with a good thing, as they say. Some of my fellow staffers were a bit higher on Palmer beause of the swap from Laveranues Coles at WR2 to free agent Antonio Bryant. I was less convinced, because I have serious doubts about whether Bryant a) can stay healthy and b) is that impactful even when he is healthy. Did you know that Antonio Bryant has exactly ONE top 20 fantasy season in eight years? Hardly the stuff of legend.

On top of the situation, which I didn't see as that improved from a year ago, a part of me questioned whether Palmer was really healthy. Palmer was just 8 for 35 last year (23% completion) on passing attempts of 20+ yards. That's abysmal, and it had me wondering whether Palmer had some kind of shoulder or elbow impediment. So there I was, fully prepared to let someone else draft Palmer as their QB2 in my leagues.

But then the popcorn started popping...

On the eve of training camp, the Bengals decided to sign Terrell Owens to a one-year contract. And my perspective on the Bengals changed considerably.

Let's be clear, the Bengals aren't going to suddenly throw the ball 600+ times this year. But anyone that thinks the Bengals run/pass balance won't tilt back toward the passing game really needs to re-think things.

1) You don't sign Terrell Owens unless you're committed to getting him the ball
2) Even before the Bengals signed T.O., they had built a deep WR corp and drafted TE Jermaine Gresham
3) The Bengals defense isn't going to be quite as effective this year, meaning the need to be aggressive offensively in more games

All this support for Owens, but isn't he washed up?

Fair question, considering he'll be 37 years old this season and is coming off his worst full fantasy season (WR26) of the last decade. But you have to remember that he only got 109 targets last year, playing on a horrendously ineffectual team, with neither a good QB nor anyone that could keep opposing defenses from game planning Owens out of the game. Now let's look at the underlying metrics. He still is in phenomenal shape. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch last year (slightly HIGHER than his career average). He converted 5% of his targets into TDs.

Now consider that Owens will be playing for a contender, he'll have a former All Pro throwing him the ball, he'll be playing alongside an elite wideout who also happens to be one of his best friends, and he has an incentive laden deal. Some would have you believe Owens has been ineffectual for a number of years. Yet I look and see someone that finished as the 9th best fantasy WR in 2008! In his three years in Dallas, on the field, he was terrific, finishing WR2, WR2 and WR9.

With a pair of WRs that can get downfield, as Ochocinco and Owens can, I see no reason why Palmer's yards per attempt won't trend back toward his career mark of 7.1 (it was just 6.6 last year). And I can't see Palmer throwing less than 500 times in a full 16-game season this year for the reasons already stated. Do the're talking about a baseline of roughly 3,500 yards passing. Palmer has always been able to produce TDs, with a career TD rate of 4.9%. Now you add one of the most prolific scoring WRs in history (Owens is second only to Jerry Rice in career receiving TDs) PLUS a big TE target in Gresham, and I don't see why Palmer won't match if not exceed his career average. Take the baseline of 500 attempts at a 5% TD rate and you're looking at 25 TD passes, folks. And keep in mind, this is a baseline scenario...he's capable of much more. When he was healthy and Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were in their primes, Palmer had back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons and averaged 27 TDs per game those two years.

How does the addition of Owens calm your fears about Palmer's health?

There's the potential fly in the ointment. Palmer's inability to throw downfield with any velocity or accuracy is troubling, particularly because it's not something he's had a problem with historically. And there were times last year the Bengals ABSOLUTELY could've used more downfield passing as defenses keyed on stopping Cedric Benson.

So what I'm proposing is to watch training camp like a hawk. We should know if Palmer is banged up by what he does, or does not do, in camp. If Palmer is zipping the ball all over the field during practices and early preseason action, then I'm all in for his fantasy resurgence and that of the Bengals supporting cast. But if he struggles or doesn't test his arm, or we get coachspeak about them not wanting to push him in camp, then I probably take my foot off the accelerator and take a wait and see approach.


  • Palmer is a career 63.2% passer with elite peripherals. When healthy, he is as adept a pocket passer as anyone in the game.
  • The Bengals will field the deepest and most talented set of receivers in Palmer's career, starting with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. If Antonio Bryant's health allows, he becomes an elite WR3. Add in TE Jermaine Gresham and the likes of Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley, and Cincy's passing game can survive some injuries; few other teams can say that.
  • The Bengals running attack and offensive line will keep defenses honest, and give Palmer a chance to throw off play action to his duo of star outside receivers.


  • In 2008 Palmer missed most of the season and then last year was an effective game manager, but couldn't throw downfield the way he used to. If that hints at a injury to his throwing arm, no WR corps is going to help right what ails him.
  • The Bengals won the AFC North last year playing strong defense and running the ball; there may not be an incentive to ramp up the team's passing attempts.
  • Unless you have your draft soon, Palmer's ADP is going to jump making it much harder to grab him as your backup.

Final thoughts

The stage is set for a bounce back year for Carson Palmer, after finishing a meager 18th at his position last year. The addition of Terrell Owens, and to a lesser extent WR Antonio Bryant, TE Jermaine Gresham and rookie WR Jordan Shipley gives Palmer a collection of weapons unlike any he's seen in years. So long as there's nothing wrong with his arm, he should be in position to push for Top 10-12 numbers again. Ideally, because he is two years removed from that kind of productivity, I would target Palmer as a fantasy QB2 with upside. Whether his ADP will allow for that remains to be seen. But so long as Palmer looks healthy in camp, Palmer is now one of the guys I'm targeting in the mid rounds as my backup or perhaps as part of a quarterback-by-committee.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

rzrback77 said:

Carson Palmer is an interesting projection for 2010. He adds several passing options (Antonio Bryant, Jermaine Gresham, Matt Jones, and Jordan Shipley) yet still has many detractors that say he has totally lost his arm.

It seems to the outsider that the Bengals are counting on his arm, by addition of all those weapons and I will project an improved passing attack for the Bengals. In 09, they rushed 491 times while throwing 495 passes, but only had a 6.6 ypa for the season. However, Palmer's career is only 7.1 ypa. I think that most are discounting his capabilities and performance from a year ago.

I think that Palmer will show improvement in 2010 through a combination of improved arm strength and much better weapons. A solid late QB pick as he currently has an ADP of QB 16 and 111 overall.

Bayhawks said:

Palmer threw for 3094 yards, 21 TDs & added 39 rushing yards and 3 TDs in 2009 for a QB rank of 18.

However, it's important to note a few things:

1) In the week 17 game, the Bengals had nothing to play for, and the Jets had everything to play for. It showed in the relative performance put forth by the 2 teams, and in the fact that Palmer didn't play in the 2nd half, despite only being down by 1 TD. If you factor in Palmer's average for the 1st 15 games of 2009=206 passing yards, 1 TD, that adds up to 3300 passing yards, and 22 TDs (the rushing yardage is minimal, and the rushing TDs are too arbitrary).

2) In 2009, the Bengals attempted only 477 passes. That was 27th in the league. I'd expect that number to go up to AT LEAST 509 attempts (only 2 more passes/game) with all the passing game weapons added by the Bengals.

3) Palmer completed 60% of his passes in 2009. His career average (before his arm injury) was 64%. His YPA in 2009 was 6.6. His career YPA (before his arm injury) was 7.3. I'd say with a little more emphasis on passing, his completion percentage will be a little higher, so let's say 61% & his YPA will increase a little, so let's say 6.9 YPA.

509 attempts, 320 completions, (6.9 YPA)=3512 passing yards

4) In 2009, Palmer threw a TD on 7.5% of his completions. His career average is 8%. Again, with an improved passing attack, I'd expect that % to go up, so let's say 7.7%.

320 completions X .077= 25 passing TDs

So, 3512 passing yards and 25 passing TDs are my projections for him. While I think it is likely he could exceed these numbers, I don't see how (barring injury) he won't reach these numbers.

Footballguys Staff Writer Bob Henry said:

Actually, I just realized that amongst the staff I'm the lowest on Carson Palmer with my current ranking @ 25.

Palmer was brutal in the second half of the season, particularly down the stretch and in the playoffs. This included several matchups where he simply couldn't take advantage of low hanging fruit to produce even marginally worthwhile numbers (Det, Min, Cle, Pit, etc)

While I'm not sold on Palmer, I'm certainly not sold on Antonio Bryant staying healthy and I don't buy his billing as a weapon that will allow Palmer to return to his glory years.

I like Jermaine Gresham as much as anyone, but he's a rookie and I'm simply not counting on him to step in from day 1 and be a difference maker.

Jordan Shipley? Same thing. Nice talent, like the kid a lot, but will he even beat out Caldwell for the WR3 job? Maybe, but it might take some time.

The Bengals defense is steadily improving to the point where one must consider them as a D1 in 12-team leagues. With an improved defense and a strong running game, I don't see the formula changing much for the Bengals.

For Palmer to regain his form, he must demonstrate a marked improved in YPA. I don't see it. He hasn't averaged better than 7 YPA since 2007.

Palmer finished 18th last season while playing in 16 games. He also passed for 21 TDs and rushed for 3 TDs. Not counting on the latter happening again, so once again, barring more pass attempts and/or an improved YPA, I don't see him moving upward in the QB rankings much, but I do see him sliding a bit.

I also see the Ravens, Steelers and Browns defenses all improving on last year.

I have him projected for 475 pass attempts, 9 more than last year, but finishing 24th amongst QBs in fantasy pts.

My current projections: 287-475, 3156 yds, 6.6 YPA, 20 TDs, 15 INTs, 32-64-1 rushing

Color me doubtful on Mr. Palmer. I've read lots of reasons why he wasn't as effective in the 2nd half of the season, but he just didn't pass the eyeball test to me. He looked like he lost velocity, arm strength or something. He couldn't take advantage of poor pass defenses. Due to all of these reasons, he almost certainly won't be on any of my teams this year. He's in the group where I'll need to see it to believe it before I'm buying his stock again.

Carson Palmer projections

Jason Wood31451536702417600
Message board consensus32852036472414801