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Team Previews

Arizona Cardinals 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by Kyle Dvorchak
Updated On: June 28, 2021, 12:14 pm ET

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,153 (sixth)

Offensive Touchdowns: 49 (10th)

Offensive Plays: 1,083 (fourth)

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 604 (17th)

Rush Attempts: 479 (sixth)

Unaccounted for Targets: 156 (12th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 239 (fourth)

Coaching Staff

After transforming the Arizona offense in 2019, Kliff Kingsbury gave the Cardinals a second facelift last year. His offense went from among the league’s most pass-heavy two years ago to a run-oriented unit in 2020. The Cardinals ran on 44.2-percent of their plays which represented a 4.6-percent increase from the previous year and was good for eighth-highest in the NFL. Part of that shift simply comes down to Kyler Murray being a dynamic threat with his legs. However, much of it is due to Kingsbury loading Kenyan Drake up with 239 carries, despite his efficiency wavering at times. This change also resulted in Arizona leading the league in plays run from 12-personnel (one running back, two tight ends). The deviation from the air raid principles coincided with Arizona’s defense turning in a surprisingly average performance. A year removed from allowing the fifth-most points per game, Arizona’s defense finished the year as a top-10 unit in 2020. When the Cardinals did take to the sky, they exclusively focused on DeAndre Hopkins. Only Davante Adams bested Hopkins’ 29.4-percent target share last year. 

 

Passing Game

QB: Kyler MurrayColt McCoy
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore   
WR: A.J. Green, Andy Isabella
WR: Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson
TE: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels

While Kingsbury did scheme up more deep and intermediate throws for his second-year passer, Murray was far from an aggressive quarterback. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Murray still finished the year 21st in air yards per attempt. His target depth rose by one yard compared to his rookie campaign. One explanation for Murray getting to push the ball downfield slightly more often was the improvement in his protection. Arizona’s offensive line avoided the slew of injuries that plagued them in prior years and made some notable changes in the offseason, including the addition of Kelvin Beachum as their new right tackle. Murray was pressured far less often and took 21 fewer sacks in his second pro season. While Kingsbury still frustrated onlookers with the horizontal air raid, Murray’s 2020 campaign gave him all of the reasons he needed to continue opening up the offense.

If Kingsbury’s devotion to short pass attempts limited the ceiling of his top receiver, you wouldn’t have known based on Hopkins’ numbers. Laughing in the face of the narrative that receivers switching teams struggle, Hopkins cruised to a 115-1,407-6 stat line. While his average depth of target fell for the second year in a row, Hopkins more than made up for that by catching 71.9-percent of the passes thrown his way. That was a career-high for the long-time Texan and it led to him finishing second in the league in receptions. Hopkins topped 100 yards on seven occasions last year and has an argument to be taken as the first receiver in fantasy drafts this year. Anything less than a top-three selection at his position is a steal.

After Hopkins, the Cardinals struggled to find any production from their receiving room. Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest receivers of all time, was not great in 2020. He was not good, nor was he even okay. Among players with at least 70 targets last year, only Greg Ward and future Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green earned fewer yards per target than Fitzgerald’s mark of 5.7. To his credit, Fitzgerald’s role as the slot receiver on an offense that already wants to throw shallow passes was destined to make him look inefficient. Despite this, his inability to generate anything after the catch was a massive detriment to the offense. Arizona did not re-sign Fitz and chose Purdue’s Rondale Moore in the second round of the draft. Moore is electric with the ball in his hands and will be a massive upgrade over this version of Fitzgerald once he takes the field.

The acquisition of Hopkins pigeonholed Christian Kirk into a role that primarily saw him working as a field-stretcher. Had he looked over his shoulder while 20 yards downfield, Kirk likely would have seen his new teammate soaking up all of his targets from 2019. Kirk’s target total dropped by nearly thirty and he ended the season on a seven-game scoreless streak. His third season wasn’t a complete bust, though, as he did sprinkle in a handful of spike weeks. In a span of three games from Week 6 to Week 9, Kirk scored five times and posted his only 100-yard game. Kirk plays a role that has yet to be accentuated by the Arizona offense under Kingsbury. It’s possible that Murray continues progressing as a downfield thrower but, for now, Kirk is best used as a stacking option with his quarterback rather than a standalone fantasy asset.

The final piece of Arizona’s wide receiver rebuild is somehow the aforementioned Green. A perennial star in Cincinnati, Green looked entirely ready to retire in 2020. He managed just five yards per target and appeared to give up on the play before a whistle was blown more than once. A change in scenery will do Green some good but he did not look like even a shade of his former self last year. Green is a player that will need to prove he still has it before fantasy players are comfortable rostering him.

For a team that used multiple tight ends frequently, Arizona made it seem like they did not employ a single one last year. Dan Arnold led the team’s tight ends with 498 receiving yards and peaked at 61 yards in a game. He departed in free agency leaving Maxx Williams as the starter. Williams’ best season came in 2015 when he hit 268 yards as a rookie in Baltimore. Barring an unheralded breakout, no tight end on this roster projects to be a relevant fantasy weapon. 

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Running Game

RB: Chase Edmonds, James ConnerEno Benjamin    
OL (L-R): D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, Justin MurrayKelvin Beachum

The Cardinals subbed out Drake for James Conner in free agency and although Conner gets a bad rap for his weak performances in recent years, this move may actually be an upgrade. Running behind a superior offensive line than Conner, Drake sputtered about to the tune of four yards per carry last year while Conner rushed for 4.3 yards per carry. Conner is projected to split Drake’s role with the incumbent runner, Chase Edmonds. Multiple regimes in Arizona have refused to unleash Edmonds despite the shifty back looking like a playmaker whenever given the chance. This should serve as a warning for any fantasy drafter hoping to get 200 touches from Edmonds, who is currently getting most of the hype in this backfield. Four inches taller and over 20 pounds heavier, Conner also looks like the typical goal-line back. At his price, Conner is an intriguing bounce-back candidate for fantasy purposes. 

Edmonds will likely earn more carries than Conner between the 20s given his propensity for finding chunk yardage. He has turned 12.7-percent of carries into gains of 10 or more yards over the past two seasons. Edmonds also holds the advantage of working in Kingsbury’s system for two seasons while Conner is being tasked with learning a new playbook in the offseason. As Arizona’s third-down back, Edmonds will add a weekly floor of receptions to his rushing work as well. 

While the Twitter debates of Edmonds versus Conner will rage throughout the summer, it’s possible that their split of the touches makes Murray the best runner to target in Arizona. He rushed for 819 yards last year, falling just 136 yards short of Drake, despite taking a notable step back as a runner in the second half of the season. This was seemingly due to the shoulder injury that plagued him to close out the year. At the midpoint of 2020, Murray was on pace to top 1,000 rushing yards. 

 

Win Total

The Cardinals' win total currently sits at eight, with juice toward the over, at most sportsbooks. In a 17-game season, failing to earn more wins than losses would be a disappointment for Arizona’s fans but is a reasonable projection based on their competition. The Cardinals were already facing difficult opponents within their division on a yearly basis and then two of them, San Francisco and Los Angeles, made upgrades at the quarterback position in the offseason. If Kingsbury opts for a pass-heavy approach and allows Murray to throw beyond the sticks more often, his offense has the talent to blow past this win total. With unbridled aggression yet to be a feature of the horizontal air raid, a season that sees the Cardinals fall within a win of breakeven direction should be the expectation. 

Kyle Dvorchak

Kyle Dvorchak is a writer for NBC Sports Edge and half of the other sites on the internet. He loves most Big 12 quarterbacks, misses the XFL and can be found on @kyletweetshere.