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2018 Fantasy Football Preview: Arizona Cardinals


It’s July, which means football season is almost here. Over the next month, I will have a fantasy preview for all 32 NFL teams with thoughts on all relevant fantasy options, starting with the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Quarterback

 

Sam Bradford is fully expected to start for Arizona in 2018, and the only concern with him remains whether or not he can stay healthy. In 17 games with Minnesota over the past two years, Bradford completed 71.8% of his passes for 4,259 yards, 23 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. The former No. 1 pick is still one of the best pure passers in the NFL and can dice a defense up at all levels of the field (just look at the 2017 season opener when he torched the Saints for 346 yards and three scores on MNF).

 

Don’t listen to the doubters when it comes to Bradford, as there’s a reason the Vikings made him active for the playoffs and head coach Mike Zimmer seriously considered playing him over Case Keenum before the “Minnesota Miracle.” In Arizona, the 30-year-old is surrounded by an underrated skill-position group led by stars David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Bradford is better left undrafted in such a deep group of quarterbacks, but don’t be surprised if he is a serviceable fantasy option in standard-sized leagues.

 

Widely considered the most pro-ready signal-caller in the 2018 NFL Draft, Josh Rosen slipped to the No. 10 pick before the Cardinals traded up for him, but he will likely remain the backup unless Bradford is injured or the franchise faces a lost season in November/December. If forced into action, Rosen would probably be a low-upside, low-volume option on an offense centered around the running game. The pieces are there to put up numbers, though, so whether or not he’d be worth an add will be dependent on how fantasy owners view his potential. Personally, I’d let someone else pickup Rosen, who was my sixth-ranked quarterback in the draft.

 

Running back

 

No matter who is under center for Arizona, you can bet that David Johnson will be heavily involved as both a runner and receiver. He’s currently being overlooked a bit at the top of fantasy drafts, but I expect Johnson to be as good as ever coming off a season in which he played just one game—which isn’t a negative in terms of 2018 outlook since it was a wrist injury rather than a leg injury.

 

Even under a new coaching staff, DJ will be the clear focal point of the offense and could see 25-30 touches every week behind an improved run-blocking offensive line with a revamped right side (RG Justin Pugh and RT Andre Smith). Also, for what it’s worth, Johnson has upped his 1,000-rushing-yards-and-1,000-receiving-yards goal from a season ago to 1,500 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards for the upcoming season. My draft rankings won’t be released until next month, but I will say that early drafters should seriously consider the 26-year-old with the first pick. He’s a true superstar.

 

Behind Johnson will be fourth-round pick Chase Edmonds out of Fordham. If you didn’t know, Arizona loved current Lions running back and former second-round pick Ameer Abdullah in the 2015 NFL Draft, but Detroit traded up ahead of them and took the Nebraska product. I think general manager Steve Keim probably saw a lot of Abdullah in Edmonds, who is a shifty, compact runner that can do damage in space, but the rookie won’t make a significant fantasy impact if DJ is healthy. He’s just a late-round handcuff in redraft leagues.

 

Second-year back Elijhaa Penny would also be involved if Johnson went down, and like last year, he would mainly operate in an early-down role. The six-foot-two, 234-pounder rushed 31 times for 124 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns as a rookie behind a poor offensive line, so he might be able to shine if given another opportunity at extended playing time. Still, Edmonds would be the preferred add in the case of an injury, leaving Penny as a touchdown-dependent FLEX option.

 

Wide receiver

 

Larry Fitzgerald is back for what feels like his definitive final season, and there’s no reason to expect his play to suddenly fall off after a 109/1,156/6 line in his age-34 campaign with Carson Palmer (7 starts), Blaine Gabbert (5 starts), and Drew Stanton (4 starts) all playing due to injury. Fitz will continue to man the slot in new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s scheme, and the future Hall of Famer is a great fit with the pinpoint-accurate Sam Bradford as Arizona’s triggerman. Coming off his third-straight year with 107+ receptions, Larry Legend is a value pick in Round 5 of fantasy drafts with a boost in PPR leagues.

 

Christian Kirk was one of my favorite players in the 2018 NFL Draft as the top player at his position and No. 11 overall prospect, but he fell all the way to the middle of the second round before his hometown team scooped him up. A mix of Odell Beckham Jr. lite and Golden Tate, the former Texas A&M star should be able to earn immediate playing time on the outside and could mix-and-match with Larry Fitzgerald in the slot to start his career. My only worry is that Fitz and Johnson will dominate touches, but I have enough confidence in Sam Bradford to count on a rookie impact out of Kirk.

 

The third receiver spot will be decided in training camp with Brice Butler, Chad Williams, and J.J. Nelson all potentially making a case to start. Butler has yet to see significant playing time after five NFL seasons, but he has two campaigns with over 21.0 yards per reception under his belt, including last year with Dallas. I think this could be his chance to breakthrough as a big-bodied deep threat because defenses will be forced to respect all three of Johnson, Fitzgerald, and Kirk underneath.

 

2017 third-round pick Chad Williams caught just three passes for 31 yards as a rookie, so he will need to take a big leap this summer to earn a role by the season opener. I think there’s a good chance he winds up fifth on the depth chart, so right now, he’s just a hold in dynasty leagues. J.J. Nelson seemed to be a favorite of former head coach Bruce Arians, so it will be interesting to see how the new staff utilizes him and his 4.28 wheels. Nelson is very thin, but he’s displayed above-average hands and solid overall receiving skills since being drafted in 2015. The 26-year-old quietly combined for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns over the past two seasons and is worth monitoring in camp.

 

Tight end

 

Ricky Seals-Jones is currently being drafted as the TE26, but he arguably carries the most upside of out any late-round flier at tight end. The 23-year-old is a well-built six-foot-five, 243 pounds and averaged 16.8 yards per reception on 12 catches as a rookie, including a two-week stretch in November where he went for 3/54/2 and 4/72/1. Look for Seals-Jones to act as a seam-stretcher and red-zone target for Mike McCoy’s offense. He will likely be a top-20 option at the position for me.

 

One of Sam Bradford’s best friends at Oklahoma, veteran Jermaine Gresham will also continue to be involved offensively if he returns from his torn Achilles by Week 1, which could cap Seals-Jones’ potential this year. That said, while Gresham has started 40-of-45 games since joining the Cardinals in 2015, he’s yet to go for more than 391 yards or two scores in a season, and it would be a surprise if he is somehow better following a serious injury. The former first-round pick should be a quality real-life contributor when he’s back, but I don’t expect him to be a fantasy contributor with his friend under center.

 

 

For more in-depth analysis, analytics, and access to early draft rankings to see exactly where each player stands, buy the recently-launched Fantasy Football Consigliere here.

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