Preseason - 2021 Arizona Cardinals Outlook
Arizona brought in Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach in 2019, which led to a 13-18-1 record after two seasons. Their offense scored 410 points (13th) while ranking sixth in yards. They scored 185 more points than in 2018 (225) and 49 more than 2019 (361).
Over the previous six seasons, Kingsbury was the head coach for Texas Tech. His teams went 35-40 while never having a winning season in conference play. He is a former NFL and CFL player. His forte comes on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinals want to throw the ball, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins (115/1,407/6) raised the passing bar while also setting up a better structure for their wide receivers.
The Cardinals still don't have an offensive coordinator, leaving the role of play calling to their head coach. Kingsbury helped Patrick Mahomes reach an elite level while also working with Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, and Baker Mayfield.
Vance Joseph returns as the defensive coordinator after losing the Broncos' head coaching job in 2018. Joseph went 11-21 in two seasons with Denver. In 2016, Vance held the defensive coordinator job for the Dolphins. He has 16 seasons of experience in the NFL.
Arizona progressed to 13th in yards allowed by their defense. They shaved off 75 points from 2019 (442 – 28th), leading to a move to 12th points allowed (367).
The Cardinals signed DE J.J. Watt, CB Malcolm Butler, and CB Darqueze to their defense. They lost CB Patrick Peterson, DE Haason Reddick, and LB De'Vondre Campbell.
Over his last 24 contests, Watt had 76 combined tackles and nine sacks. He starts the year at 32. When healthy and in his prime, Watts averaged over 75 tackles and 17 sacks over 80 games. Injuries cost him 31 starts since 2015.
Butler tends to see a high volume of targets, leading to risk in yards and touchdowns allowed. However, his play in 2020 improved in coverage while seeing a slight fade in run support.
Darqueze missed eight games last year due to a hamstring injury. The Bengals drafted him in the first round in 2014, but he only had over 700 snaps in one season (2017). His run defense can be an asset, and receivers tend to gain short yards per catch against him.
Peterson has been a top player at his position since being drafted in the first round in 2011. His play slipped in 2020, leading to many big plays and struggles with touchdowns allowed.
Reddick had his best season in the NFL thanks to a switch back to a pass rusher on the defensive line. He has four years of experience while being drafted in the first round by the Cardinals in 2017.
Campbell has been a liability in all areas over the past three seasons.
Arizona added RB James Conner after RB Kenyan Drake signed with the Raiders.
Injuries led to Conner missing 12 games from 2018 to 2020. When healthy, he runs well with value in the passing game. His yards per catch (6.1 in 2020) faded in back-to-back seasons.
Drake struggled to find his rhythm in too many games last year, leading to regression in his yards per rush (4.0) and yards per catch (5.5). Nevertheless, he scored 27 touchdowns over his past 45 games.
After losing WR Larry Fitzgerald to possible retirement, the Cardinals took a flier on WR A.J. Green. Unfortunately, his demise started in 2018 (46/694/6) due to seven missed games due to a toe injury, followed by a lost season in 2019 with an ankle issue. Green never found his rhythm last year despite playing in 16 games.
The Cardinals lost TE Dan Arnold to the Panthers. Over the past four seasons, he alternated homes between Arizona and New Orleans. Arnold reached new heights in 2020 (31/438/4) with Kyler Murray throwing him the ball.
The only other change was the addition of G Brian Winters. He played his way to a bench role over the final five weeks in 2020 while continuing to be a below-average player in run and pass blocking.
The Cardinals selected LB Zaven Collins 16th overall in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. His game fits the "Do Your Job Mold," with a higher ceiling if he can improve his reads on developing plays. In addition, Collins fills gaps in run support with strength in his tackling. He understands his responsibilities in coverage. His next step starts by adding more fire in his attack while developing his game in the pass rush.
Arizona took a shot on WR Rondale Moore in the second round. Despite lacking size (5'7" and 180 lbs.), he plays with strength with exceptional value in his route running and open field ability. Moore brings vision and extreme quickness to the slot position. His style of play should be dangerous in the Cardinals' passing game as a small catch close to the line of scrimmage can lead to a difference-maker touchdown.
In the fourth round, Arizona invested in CB Marco Wilson. His overall talents should reach a high ceiling if Wilson adds in the cerebral part of the game. He looks the part of a playmaking cornerback, with enough vision to be on-time defending passes. Wilson will need to mix it up against the run and show more fight in coverage to reach his potential.
Over the following three selections, the Cardinals focused on their defense – DE Victor Dimukeje (6.26), CB Tay Gowan (6.39), and S James Wiggins (7.16).
Dimukeje projects to be a power pass rusher who may lack the range to finish if delayed after the snap. His run defense points to an early-down bench role. He can't reach a higher ceiling without developing depth in his moves rushing the quarterback.
Gowan isn't where he needs to be in technique while offering questionable speed and quickness. His best chance to receive playing time comes in press coverage over a shorter field. He continues to develop his body, but his strength trails the NFL standard coming out of college.
Wiggins regressed over his final year in college due to his recovery from a torn ACL. He attacks short-area zones with playmaking ability. His value takes a hit when in chase mode. Wiggins needs to improve his vision as well.
With their final pick, Arizona drafted C Michal Menet. His wins come from power that plays well against bullies. He struggles to reach attackers outside his small piece of real estate. Pass protection looks to be an issue early in his career.
The Cardinals improved to 7th in rushing yards (2,237) with 22 touchdowns and 17 runs over 20 yards. They averaged only 4.7 yards per carry with 29.9 attempts per game (5.1 more rushes than 2019).
Arizona climbed to 18th in passing yards (4,102) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. They gained 7.1 yards per pass attempt with only 14 completions over 40yards. Their offensive line allowed 29 sacks.
LT D.J. Humphries
Over the past two seasons, Humphries made 32 starts while developing into an elite player for the first time in his career in 2020. He finished as one of the best players at his position in run blocking with improvement in pass protection. Arizona drafted him in the first round in 2015.
LG Justin Pugh
Pugh had repeated success in pass blocking, moving closer to the league average in the run game. Over his first four years in the NFL for the Giants, he offered an edge in all areas. He is also a former first-round pick (2013).
C Rodney Hudson
The Cardinals acquired Hudson via a trade with the Raiders in mid-March. Over the previous decade, he ranked at the top of the league in pass protection, with almost no sacks allowed over the past six years. His run blocking has consistently been in a favorable area. Hudson should push this line to a higher level in 2021.
RG Josh Jones
The best player not listed as a starter for the Cardinals' offensive line is Jones. He came off the bench in nine matchups in his rookie season after getting drafted in the third round. His path to NFL comes at tackle positions. He needs plenty of work in his technique to fine-tune his skill set in pass protection. Jones should develop into a starter with his run blocking expected to play well early in his career. e's been
RT Kelvin Beachum
In his first season with Arizona, Beachum solidified the right tackle position in pass protection while continuing to fall short in run blocking. He has a long resume in the NFL while playing for four franchises.
The structure of this offensive line points to a longer passing window for Kyler Murray in 2021. In his first two years, he settled for the short completions (6.9 and 7.1 yards) on many plays. The success in the run game should be a given, thanks to a running quarterback.
Arizona finished 2020 with the fourth-most plays while running the ball 46.8 percent of the time. They also averaged 35.9 passes, which came in above the league average.
QB Kyler Murray, ARI - Stud (low risk)
In his second season with Arizona, Murray became an elite fantasy option. He had growth in his passing yards (3,971), completion rate (67.2), and pass touchdowns (26) while becoming an impact player in the run game (133/819/11). Over 32 games in his career, he gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt and 6.0 yards per rush.
His season started with seven games (29.60, 36.00, 31.10, 30.80, 41.70, 41.75, and 33.35) with over 29.00 fantasy points in nine starts. Over this span, he gained 2,979 combined yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Defenses slow him down over his final seven games on the ground (46/215/1). The Cardinals gave him a quick hook in Week 17, leading to 252 passing yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game. Despite his regression, he averaged 39.3 passes per game.
Fantasy Outlook: The Cardinals still lack a viable tight end while owning one of the best wide receivers in the game. His offensive line protects well in pass protection, and Rondale Moore could hit the ground running as a possession option with explosiveness with the ball in his hands. Christian Kirk set a high floor while A.J. Green is the wild card. Murray looks to be on a path for 5,300 combined yards with a push over 40 scores while ranking third in the early draft season.
Other Options: Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RB James Conner, ARI - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over the past three seasons with a starting job in Pittsburgh, Conner missed 12 games, leading to a challenging player to manage in the fantasy market. He played well in 2018 (1,370 yards with 13 touchdowns and 55 catches over 13 games. His success placed him sixth in running back scoring (282.00 fantasy points) in PPR leagues.
In 2020, Conner started the year with an early exit in Week 1 (17 combined yards with two catches) that ended up being minor. He delivered top-tier running back production over his next five games (546 combined yards with four touchdowns and 13 catches – 18.3 fantasy points per game).
After a dull four games (227 combined yards with one touchdown and 10 catches), Conner missed three of the following four weeks (Covid and a quad issue) while adding a steady end to the year over his final three matchups (195 combined yards with two scores and 15 catches – 15.5 FPPG).
His season ended with a toe injury that required surgery. Arizona expects Conner to be ready for training camp.
Fantasy Outlook: Based on his ADP (104), Conner will outperform his price point if he can stay healthy for most of the season. He ranks 40th at running back in PPR leagues. On a path for 200-plus carries with mid-level touchdowns, 30 catches, and 1,000 combined yards. Conner brings injury risk and a higher ceiling if he can stay on the field.
RB Chase Edmonds, MIA - Quality Backup
Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals' back finished with almost the same production (2020 – 2,043 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 76 catches ~ 2019 – 2,024 combined yards with 19 touchdowns and 77 catches). Last year, their running back lost value in yards per rush (4.3) and yards per catch (6.9).
Edmonds finished 2020 with career-highs in rushing yards (448), receiving yards (402), and catches (53). The Cardinals gave him two starts, leading to 233 combined yards with 10 catches on 40 touches. Over his other 14 matchups, he had fewer than nine rushes in each contest. Edmonds had over 10 touches on five games.
Fantasy Outlook: His early July ADP (67) ranks 28th at the running back position in PPR leagues. Edmonds finished 25th last year in running back scoring (168.30 fantasy points). The Cardinals expect to give him the lead role on passing downs with a minimum of 35 percent of the running back carries in the run game. His next step should be 180 combined touches with 1,000 yards, seven touchdowns, and 60-plus catches. Edmonds projects as a mid-range RB2 in PPR leagues while looking like a value at this point of the draft season.
RB Eno Benjamin, ARI - Low Potential
In his sophomore season at Arizona State, Benjamin looked to be an upside option at running back. He gained 1,905 combined yards with 18 touchdowns and 35 catches on 335 touches. However, in 2019, he had a plodding feel on early downs (253/1093/10 – 4.3 yards per rush) while maintaining his value in the passing game (42/347/2).
He doesn't have an edge in speed (4.57 forty yards dash) or strength (12 reps in the bench press at the 2020 NFL combine). Benjamin does show more power than expected. His running style appears to be ragged in tight quarters, which leads to some flat-footed motions trying to create misses with the net results is minimal extra yards. At the next level, this approach will lead to some hard hits and possible fumbles.
I sense a hot and cold type player with his best value coming in the passing game early in his career. Benjamin looks to have risk early in his career in pass protection.
In his rookie season, Arizona didn't give him a touch in any week.
Other Option: Jonathan Ward, Khalfani Muhammad, Tavien Feaster
WR Christian Kirk, JAX - Bye Week Fill-in
Kirk played well from Week 5 to Week 5 over four games, leading to 17 catches for 324 yards and five touches on 26 targets. The Cardinals struggled to get him the ball over his next seven weeks (25/221 on 39 targets) while gaining only 8.8 yards per catch.
He missed Week 2 with a groin injury while sitting the last game of the year with a Covid issue. Kirk worked as a WR2 with similar snaps (781) to Larry Fitzgerald (745).
Over his first 39 games in the NFL, Kirk caught 159 passes for 1,902 yards and 12 touchdowns on 255 targets. His best season came in 2019 over 13 matchups (68/709/3).
Fantasy Outlook: Kirk has the potential to be a WR2 with 80-plus catches for 1,000 yards and at least five scores. His ADP (199) falls in the free zone while fantasy owners coin flip on who will finish as the second-best wide receiver. Ultimately, the success of A.J. Green determines his opportunity. For now, 50 catches for 600 yards with minimal touchdowns.
WR Rondale Moore, ARI - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
After a sensational first season (114/1,258/12 plus 21 rushes for 213 yards and two scores) at Purdue, Moore only saw the field for seven games in 2018 (20/387/2) and 2019 (35/270). His short stats last year still came to 11.7 catches for 90 yards per week. Moore battled a season ended hamstring injury in 2018.
Fantasy Outlook: If the shoe fits, an NFL team will get a player into their starting lineup. Moore should be a force over the short-areas of the field in his rookie season while also helping the Cardinals reach a higher ceiling in the passing game. So let's start the bidding at four catches per game with 750-plus yards with sneaky value in scoring.
UPDATE: Moore looks like he's going to man the slot and his vertical ability and run-after-catch skills make the rookie wideout and intriguing sleeper to target. Moore is a dark horse to lead all rookie wideouts in targets.