The Arizona Cardinals and the fantasy football have been poor companions for the last several years. Even perennial stalwart Larry Fitzgerald tailed off to WR3 status last season. However, they’ve added a capable offensive-minded head coach in Bruce Arians, and a formerly-elite, still-functional quarterback in Carson Palmer, and they poured some serious draft capital into upgrading their offensive line, so there may be some Cardinals who make fantasy noise this year. Let’s take a look at some projections.
Carson Palmer, Quarterback
Palmer is the best quarterback the Cardinals have had since 2009, Kurt Warner’s last year in the league. And this is the best collection of receiving talent that Palmer has had since he was with the Bengals in 2010, tossing passes to end-of-their-career specials Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. He’s taken a lot of heat for being “old,” but he’s only 33, and he’s played on some pretty crummy teams in recent years. The Cardinals have been a joke since Warner retired, but their defense is no laughing matter, and a revamped offensive line could be the key to turning their offense around.
Palmer threw for just over 4,000 yards with the Raiders last year, despite lacking a consistent number-one receiver. Arians’ vertical system is conducive to high yardage totals, and the Cardinals have potentially the best group of wide receivers in the division. Add in four games against the 49ers and Seahawks and games against the Lions, Saints, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Texans, and it’s a safe bet that the former USC quarterback will be passing enough to push the 4,000 mark again.
2013 Stat Projections: 61% completion, 3,900 yards, 24 touchdowns, 15 interceptions
Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver
Fitzgerald will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but his recent numbers haven’t supported that reality--unless you look at the quarterbacks he’s played with. He’ll be the biggest beneficiary of Palmer’s presence, and he should quickly become his new quarterback's favorite target. There’s the possibility he’ll even crack the 100-reception mark again, especially if Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts can draw enough attention to prevent defenses from focusing on him.
2013 Stat Projections: 95 receptions, 1,250 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns
Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver
When the Cardinals desperately needed offensive line help two years ago, they drafted Floyd in the first round, and his rookie season played out about like the season of a rookie wide receiver on team with an abysmal offensive line and no quarterbacks. Through the first eight games of his career, he compiled all of 13 receptions and 127 yards. Then he turned a corner and racked up 32 catches for 435 yards over the second half of the year. Assuming he picks up where he left off, and Palmer’s presence offsets any type of sophomore slump, he should be a great WR3, with some WR1 matchups.
2013 Stat Projections: 60 receptions, 850 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns
Andre Roberts, Wide Receiver
In 2010 with the Bengals, Palmer had two clear top receivers in Owens and Ochocinco. Then he had a third receiver who played primarily from the slot, much like Roberts. That receiver was Jordan Shipley, and he ended the 2010 season with 52 receptions for 600 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Roberts piled up 64 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns, and while he should drop off from those numbers a little bit as Fitzgerald and Palmer connect more and as Floyd improves, I think he should end up in the same vicinity as 2010 Shipley.
2013 Stat Projections: 50 receptions, 600 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns
Rob Housler, Tight End
Last year, Housler had a semi-breakout sophomore season, and Arians has spoken highly of the young tight end, mentioning that he considered drafting him in 2011 with the Steelers. Arians has always liked using a tight end in the passing game; Heath Miller saw extensive work in Pittsburgh, and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener combined for 71 catches, 802 yards, and five touchdowns in 2012. Palmer has leaned on his tight ends in the past, resulting in big years for Jermaine Gresham and Brandon Myers. It stands to reason that Housler will play a significant role in the Cardinals’ offense in 2013, especially as a red-zone threat.
2013 Stat Projections: 55 receptions, 550 yards, four receiving touchdowns
One position group is missing, and glaringly so: running back. Arians prefers to keep a strong, active running game, as his teams have averaged nearly 28 rushing attempts per game over the last five seasons. However, with a young and potentially shaky offensive line, and no clear starting back in the stable, it’s too difficult to project a starter and his numbers at this point. Rashard Mendenhall has experience and familiarity with the system on his side; Ryan Williams has talent and game-breaking ability fighting for him. The best back on the team may end up being rookie Stepfan Taylor, but it may take half the season for him to win the starting job.
Hopefully your season doesn’t depend on which Arizona running back you’re going to draft. If it does, though, keep a close eye on the battle in training camp. If Mendenhall wins the job, expect fewer yards and more touchdowns; a line like 18 carries per game at 3.8 yards per carry and a half a dozen touchdowns would be realistic. If Williams wins the job, expect more yards and fewer touchdowns, or a line like 18 carries per game at 4.4 yards per carry and three or four touchdowns. If you can snag Taylor in the final rounds, or even better, pick him up off the waiver wire, he could be a stealthy add in dynasty leagues as a legit future RB2 with some RB1 upside.