Arizona Cardinals Fantasy Football Preview
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Fresh off giving their franchise QB a five-year, $230.5 million (including a whopping $160 million guaranteed) contract extension, the Cardinals are entering year 4 of the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era.
They've been a collectively solid fantasy football unit during their three-year stint, usually landing in the top half of the league in both scoring and offensive yards. Kingsbury's offenses have finished 16th (2019; Kyler's rookie year), 13th (2020) and 11th (last year) in scoring, plus 21st (2019), 6th (2020) and 8th (last year) in offensive yards.
Arizona has been among the faster-paced offenses in football, finishing two seasons 4th and 8th in plays executed (67.7 and 66.2 plays per game in 2020 and 2021).
The Cards move the ball well, too, finishing 5th and 8th in first downs (23.8 and 21.6 per game in 2020 and 2021), and 8th, 17th and 6th in scoring percentage (38.8%, 40.2% and 44.7% in 2019, 2020 and 2021).
They've become a rather predictable unit in terms of what to expect from a Kliff Kingsbury offense in fantasy football; a slightly above average passing attack and a strong ground game.
In three years as the Cardinals' head boss, Kingsbury's Kardinals (get it?) have finished:
18th (2019), 15th (2020) and 18th (2021) in passing attempts
24th, 17th and 10th in passing yards
25th, 13th and 12th in passing TDs
19th, 6th and 7th in rushing attempts
10th, 7th and 10th in rushing yards
7th, 4th and 3rd in rushing TDs
Of course, all of this makes sense when you realize Kyler Murray has finished 4th, 3rd and 3rd in QB rushing attempts.
Sometimes fantasy football can be rather predictable and ultimately you know what you're going to get with a Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray offense: a lot of yards, a strong amount of points, a terrific ground game and an above-average passing game.
Gone is Christian Kirk and his team-leading 103 targets to Jacksonville after they blowtorched the WR market by giving him a highly questionable four-year, $72 million contract that could actually reach up to $84 million.
Chase Edmonds and his 116 carries and 53 targets followed Kirk to Florida but he landed in Miami as the likely lead back for the Dolphins.
In are free agent RB Darrel Williams, 6th round rookie RB Keaontay Ingram, 2nd round rookie TE Trey McBride and surprise draft-day trade acquisition, Marquise Brown, who the Cardinals traded the 23rd overall pick in April's draft to acquire.
McBride will hang out behind Zach Ertz in year 1, Williams and Ingram will battle it out with Eno Benjamin for the backup role behind James Conner, and Hollywood Brown's acquisition makes things interesting from a fantasy perspective in the WR room, especially given that DeAndre Hopkins will miss the first 6 games of the season (35% of the fantasy season) due to suspension.
We know what we're getting from a Kliff Kingsbury team at a macro level, but let's dive into the micro level.
Kyler Murray 📈
2019 (rookie year) fantasy points: 285.28 (QB 8) - fantasy points per game: 17.8 (QB 12)
2020 fantasy points: 378.74 (QB 3) - fantasy points per game: 23.7 (QB 6)
2021 fantasy points: 283.4 (QB 10) - fantasy points per game: 21.8 (QB 4)
It's been an incredibly strange rollercoaster ride for Kyler Murray this season. In February, it was reported that Kyler "unfollowed" the Arizona Cardinals on Twitter and Instagram, while also deleting his Cardinals-related photos.
Days after that, it was reported that Kyler was "frustrated" with the Cardinals and he thought they were framing him as a scapegoat for the playoff loss to the Rams.
Days after that, it was reported that Kyler Murray refused to go back in the playoff loss with a minute left after the game was out of hand, displeasing members in the Cardinals brass.
Trade rumors swirled and in April it was reported Murray wouldn't attend the Cardinals' offseason program.
And then, during the draft, the Cardinals traded the 23rd overall pick for WR Marquise Brown, Murray's former college teammate at Oklahoma, raising belief that the Cardinals made the move to please Murray.
Finally, in July, the Cardinals signed Kyler Murray to a five-year, $230.5 million contract extension with $160 million guaranteed, making him the second-highest paid QB in football.
The drama didn't quite stop there, however, as it was reported the Cardinals included a film-study clause in the contract requiring Murray to study four hours of film every week, calling his work ethic and preparation habits into question.
Days after that, the said clause was removed after what basically amounted to public humiliation and distraction.
Oh and then Murray tested positive for COVID in early August but has since resumed practicing.
Whew. What a whirlwind. But here we are. Just like this article, it's time to get back to fantasy football.
We know what we're getting with Kyler as the perfect personification of the Cardinals' offense described; an above-average passing attack that's elite with his legs.
In three NFL seasons, Kyler has finished:
19th (last year, missed 3 games), 8th (2020) and 9th (2019) in passing attempts
12th, 13th and 9th in passing yards
11th, 13th and 21st in passing TDs
4th, 3rd and 3rd in QB rushing attempts
5th, 2nd and 2nd in QB rushing yards
4th, 2nd and 4th in QB rushing TDs
Largely because of his rushing prowess, Kyler Murray has been one of the safest options in fantasy football, registering 20 or more fantasy points in 55.6% of his games. That number jumps all the way up to 66% if you drop is rookie season. For comparison, Josh Allen hit 20 in 63% of his games over the last 2 years. Likewise, Lamar Jackson hits 20 61.9% of the time, Mahomes does it 65.6% of the time and Justin Herbert does it 58.1% of the time.
The ceiling is favorable too, hitting 30 or more fantasy football points in 15.6% of his games (that number jumps to 24% if you drop his rookie year). For comparison, Josh Allen hit 30 in 31% of his games over the last 2 years, while Lamar Jackson hit 30 in 26.2% over the last 3 years. Herbert hit 25% last year, Jalen Hurts hit just 6.7% last year and guys like Tom Brady (19%) Aaron Rodgers (10%) have come up short of Kyler's ceiling in the last two seasons.
Losing DeAndre Hopkins for 6 games hurts, but getting deep threat Marquise Brown certainly doesn't. With his legs, Marquise Brown, Zach Ertz, Rondale Moore, AJ Green and eventually Hopkins at his disposal, Kyler is once again in for a high end QB 1 season.
I've written an unnecessary amount of words on Kyler Murray. You get it. QB 1 is easily in this guy's realistic range of outcomes.
Fantasy Drafts 👍: Kyler Murray is the QB 5, drafted around pick 58 (late 5th round), 11 picks after Lamar Jackson and within the vicinity of Josh Jacobs, Mike Williams, Elijah Mitchell, Breece Hall, JK Dobbins, Brandin Cooks, Antonio Gibson, Chris Godwin, Dalton Schultz, Courtland Sutton, Amari Cooper, Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Marquise Brown, Jerry Jeudy, AJ Dillon and more.
If I haven't taken my QB yet, I love snagging Kyler Murray in this range as the last of the high-end QB1s. If I already have a QB—I probably don't—I'm not even thinking about Kyler Murray here.
For all you two QB leaguers and Superflexers, I'd have Kyler Murray 5th overall behind Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson.
Draft Kits: I have in Tier 1B of my fantasy football Draft Kits with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and even Russell Wilson.
Dynasty Leagues: Kyler is an exciting hold for dynasty leaguers.
Obviously he doesn't belong on your redraft radar. But if you're in a 2QB or Superflex league, McCoy is a more than serviceable option if something happens to Kyler Murray.
James Conner 📈
2021 PPR points: 230.4 (RB 7) - PPR points per game: 16.5 (RB 9)
James Conner had a career resurgence last season, accumulating 218 touches (17th most)—which includes 31 catches on 33 targets—for 1034 scrimmage yards (18th) and a whopping 16 TDs (tied for 3rd). And he did all that will splitting time with Chase Edmonds who took his talents and 159 touches—including 43 catches on 53 targets—to South Beach to be with the Dolphins.
Even in a timeshare, Conner was a relatively safe option, registering 15 or more PPR points in 50% of his games and finishing under 10 PPR points just 28.75% of the time.
For comparison, Joe Mixon also hit 15 50% of the time while coming in under 10 points in 25% of his contests. Ezekiel Elliott, Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook all had similar numbers.
He showcased an elite ceiling too, hitting 30 PPR points in 14.3% of his games, which was a better frequency than every RB in football not named Jonathan Taylor or Derrick Henry.
And it's not the first time he played that way. back in 2019 with the Steelers, Conner hit 15 PPR points in 70% of his games and 30 in 10% of his games, staying above 10 30% of the time.
And, uh, yeah, by the way, in the 4 full games that Chase Edmonds missed last season, James Conner averaged 22.2 PPR points per game on 20.8 touches per game—including 4.8 catches on 5.3 targets—for 99.8 scrimmage yards per game and a total of 5 TDs.
Now, exciting as that is, it's not safe to assume that James Conner will suddenly be a 20+ touch back this season. The Cardinals brought in free agent Darrel Williams who flashed with Kansas City in previous seasons, and they also used their 6th round pick on USC's Keaontay Ingram to group with Eno Benjamin behind Conner. And the Cardinals have supported two top 30 RBs in each of the past three seasons; Conner won't have the entire backfield to himself.
Still, even in a timeshare with Edmonds last year, Conner averaged a more-than-useable 15.9 touches per game, and the competition behind him this year isn't as scary as Edmonds was.
And even if they were, Kliff Kingsbury's lead back in each of his first three years in the NFL has averaged 18.9 touches per game (Kenyan Drake, 2019), 17.6 touches per game (Drake, 2020) and 15.9 touches per game (Conner, last year).
Health permitting—which has always been the big "if" with Conner—James Conner is in line for a RB1 workload this season.
Fantasy Drafts 🤷: James Conner is currently the RB 16, drafted around pick 30 (mid 3rd round). That's a terrific value for a guy who was the RB 7 last year after starting the year behind Chase Edmonds.
The problem for me is that he's drafted inside the dreaded "RB Dead Zone" where RBs in rounds 3-6 historically tend to be trap picks while the WRs in that range are fantasy football gold. Drafted within 6 picks of Conner in either direction are Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, AJ Brown, Ezekiel Elliott, Patrick Mahomes, Tee Higgins, Kyle Pitts, Michael Pittman and Justin Herbert.
I have no problem with you using your 3rd round pick on James Conner. I personally just tend to gravitate towards Evans, Keenan, Pittman and more in that range.