2022 Arizona Cardinals Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
Despite a third consecutive season with an improved record, the Arizona Cardinals underachieved their potential in 2021. QB Kyler Murray lost his running ways while limping home in the passing game. WR DeAndre Hopkins finished with the worst season of his career, and he has a six-game suspension looming this year. The addition of WR Marquise Brown brings hope to the Cardinals' offense. His ties to Murray should be a positive. RB James Conner turned into a scoring machine (18 scores) with the look of a special player in the passing game. Arizona has questions on the defensive side of the ball. The first step toward success falls in Murray's ability to use the whole field in the passing game instead of running for his life with a limited sliver of turf to make plays.
The Cardinals finished with competitive chances in rushing attempts (496) and passing plays (591). They finished about 350 yards shy of a top-two offense in the league. When at their best, Arizona wants to run the ball while being more explosive in the deep passing game.
Arizona brought in Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach in 2019, leading to a 24-24-1 record after three seasons. Their offense scored 449 points (11th) while ranking eighth in yards gained. Their scoring improved over each of the past three years.
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 17 seasons of experience in the NFL.
Arizona bumped to 11th in yards allowed by their defense with the same ranking in points allowed (366).
The Cardinals lost five top players (WR Christian Kirk, LB Chandler Jones, RB Chase Edmonds, LB Jordan Hicks, and DE Jordan Phillips) in the offseason, leading to them signing for a combined $150 million. Arizona didn't add any top players in free agency in the offseason.
Arizona didn't have a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. They added TE Trey McBride in the second round, followed by pair of defenders (DE Cameron Thomas and DE Myjai Sanders) in the third. The Cardinals' next opportunity to improve their team came in the sixth round (RB Keaontay Ingram and G Lecitus Smith). With a trio of picks in the seventh, Arizona invested in DB Christian Matthew, LB Jesse Luketa, and G Marquis Hayes.
The Cardinals slipped to 10th in rushing yards (2,076) with 23 touchdowns and 10 runs over 20 yards. They averaged only 4.2 yards per carry with 29.2 attempts per game.
Arizona jumped to 8th in passing yards (4,102) with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They gained 7.8 yards per pass attempt with only 62 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks.
After his best season in 2020, LT D.J. Humphries faded to a league-average player in 2021. At different times in his career, he has been an asset in both run and pass blocking. RT Kelvin Beachum remains a liability in the run game while having a long history of handling his responsibilities in pass protection. C Rodney Hudson regressed in back-to-back years after dominating for multiple seasons with the Chiefs and Raiders. The guard position isn't an area of strength.
This offensive line must improve for the Cardinals to have continued growth offensively. This group looks to be on a path to be about leagues average.
Arizona inched to 20th in rushing yards allowed (1,952 yards) while allowing 10 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained only 4.6 yards per rush, with 25.1 runs per game.
The Cardinals climbed to 7th in passing yards allowed (3,645) with 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Their defense delivered 41 sacks while quarterbacks gained 6.9 yards per pass attempt.
Their pass rush must replace the loss of LB Chandler Jones, and LB Markus Golden (11.0 sacks) has never played well in back-to-back seasons. LB Isaiah Simmons showed growth in his second season with Arizona after getting selected in the first round in 2020. However, his run defense and pass coverage fell short of winning expectations. The Cardinals added two other talented options (Zaven Collins and Myjai Sanders) at linebacker over the last two drafts.
Their secondary has strength at safety. CB Byron Murphy likes to keep receivers in front of him, leading to short yards per catch but some damage in touchdowns. The other cornerback slot is a position of concern.
Arizona was weakness on the defensive line even with the aging J.J. Watt expected to be ready for Week 1. He only has 10 sacks over his last 31 starts, but he will start the year at age 33.
The defense already had issues defending the run. I see a step back in play vs. the pass, leading to a second-tier fantasy option with only matchup value.
QB Kyler Murray, ARI - Stud (low risk)
After an excellent season in 2020 (4,790 combined yards with 37 touchdowns), Murray left some stats on the table last year due to three missed games and regression in the run game (88/423/5 – 133/819/11 in 2020). He finished with further growth in his completion rate (69.2) and yards per pass attempt (7.9).
Murray started the year with two impact games (37.45 and 39.10 fantasy points in four-point passing), followed by four steady showings (22.70, 25.30, 28.05, and 25.05 fantasy points) over the next five weeks. However, he missed three matchups midseason with an ankle issue that lingered for the remainder of the season.
Over his final six starts, Murray passed for 1,511 yards and three touchdowns with a rebound in explosiveness in the run game (39/276/2).
Fantasy outlook: In the National Fantasy Football Championship, Murray ranks sixth at quarterback, but he does slide in some early drafts. He finished 11th in quarterback scoring (348.35 fantasy points) with a higher finish if he played 17 games (423.00 fantasy points – 5th). His running ceiling and scoring set a high bar. Arizona has two talented wideouts, with DeAndre Hopkins out for six games. Overall, their secondary receiving corps has more questions than developing options. Murray should have a floor of 4,800 combined yards with 32 scores.
Other Options: Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, Jarrett Guarantano
RB James Conner, ARI - Solid/Safe Pick
From 2018 to 2020, 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.
Last year in a split role for the Cardinals, Conner gained only 3.7 yards per rush, with three of his 202 carries gaining 20 yards or more. He made the best of his opportunity by scoring 15 rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Conner looked more explosive (10.1 yards per catch) with an exceptional catch rate (94.9). Most of his success in the passing game came over four matchups (5/77/1, 5/37, 9/94, and 6/41/1) over the second half of the year.
Conner gained over 60 yards in only five contests in the running game. His best value came from Week 9 to Week 13 (72/272/4).
Fantasy outlook: Entering 2022, Conner appears to have a much cleaner opportunity for the Cardinals. His ADP (38) in the NFFC in late June ranks him as the 16th running back. His scoring success helped him finish fifth in running back scoring (257.70) in PPR leagues. When pairing his injury risk and minimal impact plays in the run game, Conner has a trap feel. His scoring doesn't look repeatable, with Kyler Murray expected to be more active in the run game. With 300 touches, Conner would gain 1,350 combined yards with double-digit scores and 50 catches. His downside would be an injury-plagued year with multiple missed games.
RB Keaontay Ingram, ARI - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons in college, Ingram worked in a split role. He finished with a high catch rate (87.3), leading to 89 catches for 671 yards and six touchdowns. Ingram offered change of pace value in the run game (495/2,722/16), with the best output coming in 2019 (144/853/7 with 29 catches for 242 yards and three scores.
RB Darrel Williams, ARI - Bye Week Fill-in
In his fourth season with the Chiefs, Williams set career-highs in all areas. He finished with 1,010 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 47 catches. His best fantasy output came in three matchups (23.90, 29.40, and 25.70 fantasy points). Even with growth, Williams still had eight games with fewer than 10.00 fantasy points scored in PPR formats.
Williams gained 664 combined yards with six touchdowns and 36 catches on 129 touches over his first three years with Kansas City. In his pro career, he struggled to make big plays in the run game (3.8 yards per carry, with two of his 237 rushes reaching the 20-yard mark).
Fantasy outlook: Based on last year's stats, Williams should have the inside track to the backup running back role for the Cardinals. I don't view him as an impact player with a high ceiling, but he could work his way to catches and some red zone carries.
RB Eno Benjamin, HOU - 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 ragged in tight quarters, leading to some flat-footed motions trying to create misses, with the net results being minimal extra yards. This approach will lead to some hard hits and possible fumbles at the next level.
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.
Arizona didn't give him a touch in his rookie season. Over nine games in 2021, Benjamin gained 160 combined yards with one touchdown and six catches.
Fantasy outlook: Benjamin's experience with the Cardinals may be enough for him to win the backup running back role in 2022. Arizona added multiple other options at running back, creating a waiver wire ADP (303) in the high-stakes market in late June. Only a player to follow until the coach-speak in Arizona gives some insight to the fantasy market over the summer.
WR DeAndre Hopkins, ARI - Gamble (high risk)
After an excellent first season (115/1,407/6) with Arizona, Hopkins sat out eight games (including the postseason) with hamstring and knee issues. He failed to gain over 90 yards in any of his 10 starts, and surprisingly, Hopkins averaged only 5.7 targets over the first nine weeks (10.4 from 2017 to 2020 over 62 games). He finished with 42 catches for 572 yards and eight scores.
Hopkins has six seasons with over 1,100 yards receiving while having a floor of 100 catches four times in his nine-year career. In May, the NFL suspended him for six games this year for taking a performance-enhancing drug. Hopkins is taking the position that he didn't "inhale," but he dropped his appeal.
Fantasy outlook: When on the field, Hopkins has the resume to be a top 10 wideout. In early July, his ADP (65) in the NFFC priced him as a top-tier WR3 (ranked 25th). With similar success as his previous three seasons over 11 matchups, Hopkins looks to be on a path to catch 78 passes for 975 yards and six touchdowns or 211.50 fantasy points in PPR formats (19.23 per game). The trick is pairing him with a viable wide receiving to reach the highest ceiling with combined points. Hopkins is the right kind of gamble as he will make your team better when the most critical fantasy games are being played.