Arizona Cardinals

In with the new, out with the old. The 2018 season marks the first year of the rebuild for the Arizona Cardinals and the fifteenth, and likely last, of Larry Fitzgerald’s career.

A quick glance at the current Arizona Cardinals depth chart summons many questions. Have a look at the post OTA/pre-camp depth chart published at www.ourlads.com.

QB: Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon

RB: David Johnson, Elijhaa Penny, Chase Edmonds, TJ Logan, DJ Foster, Sherman Badie

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Williams, Christian Kirk, Brice Butler, JJ Nelson, Greg Little, numerous other guys

TE: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jermaine Gresham

Upon reviewing this list, a few things stand out:

1- Isn’t Greg Little out of the league?

The answer is yes, or rather was yes. He was in fact gone for two years but is now back for another ‘kick at the can’, thanks to the Cards. I haven’t looked up statistics on underwhelming pros returning after a 2-year absence yet, but suspect the analytics aren’t supportive.

2 – Who the hell is Chad Williams?

I consider myself quite well-versed in draft classes, particularly draftees with fantasy implications. All the same, I can’t quite recall the 2017 3rd round draft choice. Upon further review, there seems to be just cause for my forgetfulness. Williams seems a long shot to leap to relevancy.

I consider these 2 questions, albeit based solely on a pre-season roster, to be red flags, and nefarious harbingers of things to come for Arizona.

Scrolling back up to that depth chart, only two names stand out. David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

I suspect both to be fed hearty diets of touches and targets this coming year, and – provided they stay healthy – big fantasy totals.

Fitzgerald is writing his final chapter on his Hall of Fame career. At this point in his career, hopes of blockbuster fantasy totals, are unrealistic. He will use his skills, wisdom and experience to eke out respectable totals. This is all that can be expected. Every catch and touchdown will be greeted by hyperbolic ovation by the game crew and sports media. And damnit, we’ll eat up every drop of it because Larry was not only an amazing player to watch throughout his career, but seemingly a terrific guy. His combination of skill, sportsmanship and humility echoed the air of Barry Sanders, and he deserves all of the accolades.

Then there’s David Johnson. Johnson is the almost forgotten man if this year’s early ADP (3.8 on Draft) is considered. He’s often the 4th running back off the board, following some combination of Bell, Gurley and Elliott. On occasion Kamara, Brown or Barkley are chosen before him. For the 2018 season, I would suggest you forgo all of these names and take Johnson first overall.

Johnson just escaped a lost Cardinals season at the hands of an injury that will not slow him in the least. It is the type of injury from which a player can completely recover, with no risk to their game. On top of this, Johnson was injured very early in 2017. He dislocated his wrist on September 10th. In his absence the Cardinals struggled. Their struggles were compounded by an onslaught of injuries to key players and the season became a lost cause. So rather than have his tachometer revved for wasted yards, Johnson sat and saved himself some miles to nowhere. A healthier and remodeled roster, along with a new coaching staff, provide the team with new direction.

Mike McCoy has proven himself to be someone who can evaluate and adjust. He works with the players he has and plays to their strengths, rather than dictate a system etched on some ancient tablet. McCoy made lesser NFLers Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow relevant and, for a time, surprisingly successful. This is a coach who assesses and recognizes his team’s talents and strengths and then formulates a plan to leverage those advantages. It seems safe to reason that McCoy has looked at the depth chart above and come to the same conclusion: the offense is to run through David Johnson.

As coach of the San Diego Charger’s McCoy’s use of rookie running back Melvin Gordon could be sometimes infuriating. In that season McCoy seemed to stubbornly fixate on making Gordon a success. He was fed the ball again and again despite the fact that Danny Woodhead was having much more success moving the chains. And in hindsight, he was trying to do the right thing, namely teach his highly drafted asset the NFL game and establish an offense with some balance. He unfortunately would not be provided the time to see Gordon’s success through. While this was frustrating then, it should be an asset to Johnson owners. McCoy viewed the Chargers strength as Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon making each other space. McCoy was bullheaded in his approach. I believe he will carry similar conviction with him to Arizona in the use of Johnson.

What’s more, McCoy will have a long leash and the Cardinals will more likely than not be horrible. Game scripts should be pass heavy and that will benefit Johnson. Sam Bradford will eventually give way to Josh Rosen this season and the comfortable escape valve underneath in Johnson, will be a welcome sight to the rookie QB.

I believe for all the reasons above, David Johnson will finish as the #1 fantasy running back this season. I’ll also wager that he receives the ridiculously conceived and measure “Comeback Player of the Year Award”.

Getting deeper

For the same reasons provided above for David Johnson, I give similar, though a much-watered down version for Chase Edmonds.

Edmonds is a pass catching back without a major hurdle for the backup role. The story for him remains the same: positive fantasy game scripts, Rosen safety valve, yawning depth chart chasm. For these reasons, along with the fact that McCoy and his staff would be wise to spare Johnson unnecessary lost cause touches, Edmonds should be drafted in sleeper rounds.

Going deeper

For several years, absorbing Cardinals games from afar, be it by scoreboard or distant screen, has been annoying. Why? J. Brown gets a catch or score. Immediately as an owner of Jaron, or more likely John, one’s ears perk up. Only to dig deeper or squint and realize the Brown who just racked up those 13 yards was the other guy. No more.

Jaron and John are gone.

And after letting those two competent players depart, they signed? Greg Little, Brice Butler and a number of people you don’t know unless you went to the same high school.

Uninspiring offseason moves were bested by the drafting of Christian Kirk, Kirk is an interesting talent with pre-existing relationships with both mentor-to-be Larry Fitzgerald and QB-to-be Josh Rosen. This is a very good start and makes his long-term dynasty possibilities very intriguing. It should be considered however, that with a bumper crop of receivers expected to be available in next year’s draft, Kirk may not be the heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald, but rather a complimentary piece. A role that will give him value on this thin depth chart this season in all formats. I’d pencil him in for 600-700 yards and 3 to 5 touchdowns.

The cardinals receiver worth taking a deep shot on is 4th year pro JJ Nelson. The diminutive Nelson has managed over 500 years the last two season despite being behind the aforementioned Browns, Fitzgerald and Johnson (just 1 year). I believe he can put up similar or better numbers to Kirk, albeit at a much more affordable ADP. Nelson can be had at zero cost.

Note that while I give credit for Kirk’s Fitzgerald exposure, JJ has been basking in that wisdom for 3 years. He now jumps two spots up the depth chart barring a signing or Kirk surge. He has been a deep threat with targets of 74 and 61 the last two years. I think he can add a minimum of 25% to that target total, with possibly more in store. I’d consider him worthy of a stash for the season ahead.

Tight End

The Ricky Seals-Jones drum beat is getting louder and louder. Seals-Jones enjoyed a late season surge, when the depth chart was completely ravaged by injury. He may still share looks with Jermaine Gresham but a breakout season to mediocrity/relevance is not impossible, given the thin depth chart and play from behind game scripts.

Summing up

The rebuild is underway and off to a promising start. The year ahead will be a difficult one but I hope the 2018 season is kind to the Cards. It is a shame the Arians/Fitzgerald era ended prematurely and without greater success. Let’s hope Bruce Arians enjoys health and happiness in his retirement, Larry Fitzgerald receives the send off he deserves and David Johnson stays healthy, to finish as the #1 running back in fantasy football.

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