Numbers don’t lie. Unless you’re the 2016 Arizona Cardinals.
Last season was both disappointing and puzzling. Predicted by many to reach the Super Bowl, the Cardinals (7-8-1) missed the playoffs entirely. Coming off the franchise’s first ever 13-win season, a team that brought back nearly all of its key players failed to reach double-digit wins for the first time under coach Bruce Arians.
However, despite this uneven real-life season, last year’s team still racked up stats on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals defense finished first in total sacks, second in total defense and was the fifth-highest scoring D/ST in standard fantasy leagues. The team’s explosive, top 10-rated offense scored 418 points, which ranked fourth most in franchise history. The Cardinals also produced the top fantasy running back in standard scoring, along with the NFL’s leader in receptions.
Lucky for fantasy players, statistics are all that matter. There are numerous explanations for why this team stumbled last season, but the only question for fantasy owners will be if the 2017 Arizona Cardinals can continue to produce elite scorers moving forward. With an aging roster and 22 pending free agents, it will be a challenge to keep this roster intact yet again.
Continue below for a walk down the Cardinals' depth chart each offensive player’s fantasy outlook for the 2017 season.
Quarterback Depth Chart
Following a breakout 2015 campaign where Carson Palmer finished fifth in standard scoring leagues, many owners drafted him with even higher expectations. Instead, the quarterback threw 14 interceptions and allowed 14 fumbles last year. He barely finished as a top-20 option, posting only 234 standard fantasy points. This included a three-point, four-interception debacle at Buffalo in Week 3.
With such a promising 2015, it is easy to write 2016 off as a fluke. Yet, he has thrown 14 or more interceptions in nearly half of his full seasons that weren’t shortened due to injury. Last season is likely closer to the baseline moving forward. After debating retirement this off-season, he still sits at the top of the Arizona Cardinals quarterback depth chart. Consider the 36-year-old quarterback an above-average, No. 2 quarterback at best with tremendous streaming upside, depending on the matchup.
There isn’t much demand on the fantasy market for a 32-year-old, backup quarterback with 12 career starts.
Entering his 10th season, Drew Stanton’s shining moment came in 2014 when he was forced into action after Palmer suffered a season-ending injury. In nine games that season, Stanton amassed 1,700 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then, Stanton has scored only two total touchdowns, posting an average QBR of 31.2 over those two seasons.
Stanton’s only fantasy value is as a replacement if Palmer gets injured again. Even if he plays, there are better waiver wire options available. In his five games last season, he scored a combined seven points in standard leagues. And, worse yet, four of those five games resulted in either zero or negative fantasy points.
Running Back Depth Chart
The word “workhorse” was meant for a running back like David Johnson. Handling 73.4 percent of the team’s carries, his memorable 2016 season appears to be just the beginning.
If it wasn’t for an injury in Week 17, Johnson would have been the first rusher in NFL history to gain 100 scrimmage yards in every regular-season game. The top scoring running back in standard leagues, he had nine games with over 20 fantasy points. In two seasons, Johnson doubled his attempts, yards, touchdowns and receptions.
Stressing that his goal this upcoming season is to have both 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, Johnson is as close to a lock as there is. Draft him early, star him every week, and ride him to a championship. The rest of the running back depth chart for Arizona is a bit murkier.
Andre Ellington is the only running back on the Cardinals’ roster whose fantasy value is independent of David Johnson’s workload. But, that still doesn’t mean he’s more than just a deep-league, PPR play.
Of all Cardinals running backs, Ellington received the second-most snaps and carries. But, it wasn’t even close. His offensive snaps (150) were over 800 less than Johnson’s, while his carries (34) were nearly 260 fewer.
Since being drafted, injuries have derailed any hopes Ellington had of emerging as a primary running back. He did play all 16 games in 2016 but posted career lows in both yards per carry and yards per reception. Don’t expect much from Ellington. He still has the athleticism to take a short swing pass the distance but feeling confident in starting him each week will always be difficult. There are higher-upside options to fill out your bench, especially in standard leagues.
Stepfan Taylor didn’t factor into the Cardinals’ 2016 rushing attack at all. Going forward, this isn’t likely to change.
Taylor appeared in 14 games last season, tallying an anemic four rushing attempts for 12 yards and one reception. He has watched his usage plummet, with rushing attempts falling from 63 to 17 and then to 4 over the last three seasons.
An unrestricted free agent, a new team could potentially increase his fantasy value, though unlikely. As long as he is with the Cardinals, Taylor is undraftable in all formats.
To describe Kerywnn Williams’ relationship with the Cardinals as a rollercoaster would be an understatement.
Since originally signing to the practice squad in 2014, Williams has been released four times and re-signed five different times over a three-year period. Last year, however, he benefited most from David Johnson’s Week 17 injury, rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Even if this was mostly in garbage time, he has shown enough flashes that the opportunity could be right for him again in 2017.
Williams is the second-leading Cardinals running back currently under contract, but the team still has plenty of time to sign or re-sign another player. Monitor the free agency situation closely. With no other major additions to the roster, Williams could be a late-round handcuff with sleeper potential if he gets an opportunity to stick around on the depth chart.
It’s been a long time since Chris Johnson was “CJ2K.” Unfortunately, it’s also been a while since he’s been healthy.
For the second straight year, Johnson’s season was cut short due to injury. He appeared in only four games in 2016. The 32-year-old running back recently expressed his desires to find an offense where he can be more involved, stating that he doesn’t want to “sit on the sidelines.” While it appears he won’t be returning with the Cardinals, he likely won’t contribute in any meaningful way in 2017 no matter where he lands. At best, he’s a complementary back to fill out a fantasy owner’s bench or an emergency bye-week starter. At worst, he’s another injury waiting to happen.
Wide Receiver Depth Chart
Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the most consistent fantasy producers for over a decade. In 10 of his 13 seasons, the wide receiver has played in all 16 games. His fewest games played (13) has happened only once. For his career, Fitzgerald has averaged 87 catches a year, including a league-leading 107 last season.
While Fitzgerald has routinely finished among the top 20 scorers at his position each season, there are questions about how long this will continue. The 33-year-old wide receiver has faded in the second-half of the last two seasons.
There isn’t much risk in selecting a proven 100-catch wide receiver in the middle rounds, yet don’t be surprised if production slows. Fitzgerald is a reliable top-30 receiving option with very little downside.
Injury derailed John Brown’s promising 2016 season.
Looking to build off his breakout 2015 performance where he finished top 30 in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns, Brown was diagnosed with a sickle-cell trait in Week 7. Although he attempted to play through it, he surpassed 100 yards only once. The Cardinals believe they have found a solution, and if healthy, Brown could be a steal on draft day.
Only 26 years old, Brown racked up nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns over his first two seasons. A top-25 wide receiver in 2015, Brown could be a buy-low candidate this season and re-emerge as a solid no. 2 or 3 fantasy option at wide receiver.
For a receiving unit that has several off-season questions, J.J. Nelson’s 2017 fantasy value may be the biggest.
Last off-season, coaches raved about Nelson’s potential. Then, in the middle of the season, Bruce Arians labeled him the team’s no. 2 receiver. With Malcolm Floyd’s in-season release and John Brown’s health concerns, Nelson looked poised for a bigger role. He did finish the season as a Top 50 wide receiver with 98 standard fantasy points, but 65 of those points came over the course of four games. Nelson also had five games of zero points.
Nelson is not a high-volume target. Yet, a big-play threat in a prolific offense is a worthwhile investment. However, Brown’s reemergence, if healthy, dismisses both of their values. Draft Nelson knowing he will be a Top 50 wide receiver by season’s end but expect inconsistency from week to week.
The fifth-year wide receiver has had very little opportunity. In his lone start for the Cardinals in 2016, he had 8 catches for 82 yards and one touchdown. This touchdown was the first and only of his career. When he did see time on the field it was primarily on special teams.
Barring injuries, there isn’t much room for Golden in a loaded wide receiving corps. It is unlikely he works his way into the regular rotation this season.
Jeremy Ross got a late-season audition for the Cardinals.
Joining the team in mid-December after Michael Floyd’s release, Ross played in the team’s final two games. In the team’s blowout victory in Week 17, he caught four passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. All nine of his 2016 standard fantasy points came in this game.
Only getting 39 snaps, Ross is still likely to make the roster again because of his punt and kick returning ability. Ross can bolster a return game that ranked 16th in kickoff return average and 30th in punt return average in 2016.
Outside of fantasy leagues that have additional points for return yards or touchdowns, Ross has very little value heading into 2017.
A rookie free agent out of New Mexico State, Marquis Bundy signed late last season to provide depth to a depleted unit. Once promoted off the practice squad, he was inactive for three games and played in only one. He failed to log any catches.
While the Cardinals may be willing to give him a shot at earning more playing time, Bundy is at best a dynasty stash in only the deepest of leagues. Without much of a proven track record in college, roster spots are likely better spent on players with a higher ceiling.
Tight End Depth Chart
Jermaine Gresham performed about as well as expected in 2016, which isn’t a good thing.
Since joining the team prior to the 2015 season, Gresham simply hasn’t enjoyed the same success that he had with the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Cardinals, he is averaging just 55 receptions, 307 yards and under two touchdowns per season. The former Pro Bowl tight end finished 30th last season in standard scoring leagues.
There isn’t any evidence to suggest these numbers will increase without a change of scenery. As an unrestricted free agent, Gresham’s fantasy value next season is entirely tied to whomever he signs with and how that team intends to use him. Returning to the Cardinals would make him virtually undraftable, even in two-tight end leagues. However, depending on the situation, Greshman could find himself as a top-20 option with a new team.
As a restricted free agent, Darren Fells may be the starting tight end by default.
Darren Fells was on pace to lead all Cardinals tight ends in offensive snaps before an injury sidelined him in Week 4. With Jermaine Gresham likely leaving via free agency, the opportunity may be available once again. He did manage to reel in 14 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown last season.
At 31 years old, Fells’ fantasy outlook is extremely limited by the team’s philosophy. Bruce Arians uses his tight ends mainly as blockers, choosing to keep them on the line of scrimmage. Last season, all Cardinals’ tight ends only grabbed 54 catches total and three touchdowns last season. In standard leagues, pass on Fells for a starter more involved in the receiving game.
Hakeem Valles’ greatest attribute may be his blocking, which doesn’t help fantasy owners.
The rookie from Monmouth (NJ) did play in 11 games but only received two targets the entire season. In addition, he only played 41 offensive snaps. Twenty-six of those came Week 5 against San Francisco.
If the Cardinals do not choose to bring in any free agents, Valles will undoubtedly see more snaps this season. The snaps, however, will not justify a roster spot in any format for fantasy owners.
Kicker Depth Chart
Chandler Catanzaro may have kicked his way right out of Arizona.
After nailing 90.3 percent of his field goals in 2015, Catanzaro only made 75 percent this past season. His missed opportunities directly resulted in three key losses, leading many to speculate that he may find himself without a roster spot.
While the Cardinals’ offense should get into scoring range often enough to make any kicker an attractive fantasy asset, Catanzaro’s shortcomings may outweigh any possible benefits. The 20th-best kicker coming off a rough season without a guaranteed job isn’t an ideal situation. However, it is also fairly low risk. Watch how he looks during pre-season, and evaluate if he has returned to form heading into 2017. Worst-case scenario: Drop him and pick up a better option as the season progresses.