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The Arizona Cardinals ‘ passing game was phenomenal in 2015. You probably already realized that, but it is worth pointing out just how good they were as a collective.
They finished second in the league in passing yards, at 4,616, and gave back the fourth fewest on sacks, leading to a league-best 7.8 net yards per attempt mark. In the past five seasons, the 2011 Green Bay Packers were the only team to best that mark, and only two other teams even managed to match it; the 2010 San Diego Chargers , and the 2013 Denver Broncos .
However, the Cardinals didn’t do it on the strength of a Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers , and they didn’t have a dominant No. 1 wide receiver like those teams did. Instead, they kept the quarterback clean and gave Carson Palmer time to work down the field, a formula that ultimately led to three different Fantasy relevant receivers.
|CP%: 63.7||YDS: 4671||TD: 35|
Larry Fitzgerald , John Brown and Michael Floyd proved a perfect complement last season. Fitzgerald handled the intermediate stuff while lining up primarily in the slot, while Floyd and Brown took the top off the defense on the outsides. Of course, they were also willing to move any of the trio around to any spot on the field, with all three spending at least 30 percent of their routes in the slot, and proving extremely effective while doing so.
Floyd got off to a bit of a slow start while recovering from a hand injury, but all three ultimately ended up proving useful to Fantasy players. All three finished in the top-31 in standard Fantasy scoring at the end of the season, and the Cardinals became just the fifth team in the past decade to have three receivers finish a season averaging at least 55 yards per game, while appearing in at least 15 games each. The other four are listed here:
|John Brown||2015, ARI||15||101||65||1003||15.43||7||66.9|
|Larry Fitzgerald||2015, ARI||16||145||109||1215||11.15||9||75.9|
|Michael Floyd||2015, ARI||15||89||52||849||16.33||6||56.6|
|Tony Gonzalez||2012, ATL||16||124||93||930||10||8||58.1|
|Julio Jones||2012, ATL||16||128||79||1198||15.16||10||74.9|
|Roddy White||2012, ATL||16||142||92||1351||14.68||7||84.4|
|Miles Austin||2012, DAL||16||119||66||943||14.29||6||58.9|
|Dez Bryant||2012, DAL||16||138||92||1382||15.02||12||86.4|
|Jason Witten||2012, DAL||16||147||110||1039||9.45||3||64.9|
|Marques Colston||2012, NOR||16||130||83||1154||13.9||10||72.1|
|Jimmy Graham||2012, NOR||15||135||85||982||11.55||9||65.5|
|Lance Moore||2012, NOR||15||104||65||1041||16.02||6||69.4|
|Marques Colston||2014, NOR||16||100||59||902||15.29||5||56.4|
|Jimmy Graham||2014, NOR||16||125||85||889||10.46||10||55.6|
|Kenny Stills||2014, NOR||15||83||63||931||14.78||3||62.1|
The Cardinals’ passing game was one of the best of the last decade last season, and Fantasy players are going into drafts this season expecting more of the same. Palmer, for instance, is going off the board as the No. 7 quarterback, on average, and Floyd, Fitzgerald and Brown are all coming off the board as top-32 wide receivers in the first 75 picks.
What you should take note of in that chart up there, of course, is that no team made it in consecutive seasons. The New Orleans Saints came closest, managing the trick in 2012 and 2014, albeit with Kenny Stills stepping in to replace Lance Moore from two years prior. The Cardinals have an uphill battle when it comes to replicating their success from last season, and there are a few ways it could go wrong for Fantasy players.
|REC: 65||YDS: 1003||TD: 7|
The first is one we’re already starting to see: injury. Brown has started slipping down draft boards due to lingering issues with a concussion suffered early in training camp. He continues to deal with headaches, and has been in and out of practice over the last week. Coach Bruce Arians admitted to AZCentral.com Monday he is concerned about the lingering nature of the issue:
“I’ve been concerned the whole time. You hate to see it linger this long because you don’t really know what’s causing it, whether it was the concussion or whether it’s medicine or whatever it is.”
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald is a 33-year-old wideout who looked to be dramatically slowing down before posting his largest catch workload of his career. Floyd actually seems like the best bet to stay healthy because he has missed just one game in his NFL career, with a hamstring injury last season.
|REC: 52||YDS: 849||TD: 6|
And then, of course, there’s Palmer, who has dealt with three serious injuries in his career. Two, his torn ACL’s suffered in 2014 and 2005, can be fairly classified as “freak” injuries, but the shoulder issue that forced him to miss 10 games in 2014 remains something of a concern, I think. He suffered nerve damage that prevented him from even being able to throw. If he suffers a recurrence of that issue, this passing game could go down the tubes quickly. The Cardinals averaged just 6.4 net yards per attempt in 2014 overall.
The flip side of that, of course, is that everyone could stay healthy for a second year in a row, but even then, it might be hard for them to replicate the success they enjoyed last season. Again, no team in the past decade has had three receivers achieve the kind of success the Cardinals’ trio did in consecutive seasons, and Palmer is probably due some natural regression from a year ago even if he stays healthy.
His 8.7 Y/A figure was by far the best of his career, with an 8.4 mark in 2011 the only time he has even topped 7.8. Palmer had never necessarily been a bad quarterback, but he was far better last season than he had ever really been, and it isn’t unrealistic or unfair to expect some regression from Palmer even if everyone stays healthy.
If Palmer does take that step back, Brown, Fitzgerald and Floyd are all of a sudden looking a lot more flimsy. Fitzgerald was the only one of the three to be targeted more than 105 times, which means Brown and Floyd especially did a lot with a little in terms of workload. If the team is less efficient as a whole … well, look at what Floyd (7.4 Fantasy points per game) and Brown (6.2) managed in 2014.
There is, of course, always a chance everything works out just as it did in 2015, but best-case scenarios rarely repeat. Someone is going to get hurt, or take a step back, and this could leave Fantasy owners with a hole in their lineups. The good news is, the risk for the wideouts seems to have been properly priced in, to the point where you can survive your No. 3 player at the position busting.
Palmer, however, could torpedo a lot of Fantasy seasons if his season goes south. Given the talent around him and the success he enjoyed last season, Palmer might look like one of the safer quarterback targets around, but don’t be surprised if he falls back to the pack in 2015.