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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Arizona Cardinals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Cardinals have one of the league's best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, one of the league's top rookie receivers in Michael Floyd, a bruising rusher coming off a breakout year in Beanie Wells and a promising young rusher in Ryan Williams.

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They also have arguably the ugliest quarterback battle set to take place in camp.

Last year's offseason prize, Kevin Kolb, only started nine games and accounted for one touchdown per start, leading the Cards to a 3-6 record in those games. John Skelton fared much better in the win column, being a starter in five of seven games he played in, and threw eight touchdowns in his seven starts (and 11 touchdowns overall). But Kolb had a better completion percentage, averaged more yards per attempt and threw fewer interceptions -- and got paid a $7 million bonus to stay with the Cardinals. Odds point to him being the Week 1 starter vs. Seattle.

Nevermind how the Cardinals wound up with two mediocre passers throwing to elite talents; the focus is now on which one is better for Fitzgerald, a consensus Top 25 pick, to catch passes from. Here's the facts: Last year Fitzgerald averaged more targets per game (10.8 to 7.9) and yards per game (92.5 to 82.3) with Skelton. He also caught five touchdowns from Skelton vs. two from Kolb (one from Richard Bartel). So while this points to Skelton being "better" for Fitzgerald, the reality is that the Cardinals might simply tell Kolb to remember his stud receiver and target him much like Skelton did in 2011.

And with Floyd joining the Cardinals' offense to help spread opposing defenses thin, it should only be an easier assignment to pull off.

Arizona Cardinals Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Kevin Kolb Not drafted
John Skelton Not drafted
Running Backs
Beanie Wells 4
Ryan Williams 10
Wide Receivers
Larry Fitzgerald 2
Michael Floyd 10
Andre Roberts Not drafted
Early Doucet Not drafted
Tight Ends
Todd Heap Not drafted
Rob Housler Not drafted
Kickers/Defense
Jay Feely Not drafted
Cardinals DST Not drafted

Sleeper ... Ryan Williams, running back
When is it OK to draft a running back coming off a torn patellar tendon? When he's young with fresh legs and available late in drafts. Williams' rookie season was over when he ripped up his knee last August, but a year later he's rehabbed and ready to roll. Last year the Cardinals were forced to run Beanie Wells more than they initially intended, and now they can feel better about capping Wells' carries while easing Williams back into action. And don't forget that it's Wells who had the most recent knee surgery, getting a clean-up arthroscopic procedure this offseason. Wells won't be a weekly workhorse so long as Williams is able to contribute, and if Wells can't hold up, Williams will get plenty of playing time. There's plenty of upside and not a lot of risk in taking Williams with a pick starting in Round 10.

Impact rookie ... Michael Floyd, wide receiver
Floyd is not Julio Jones, but he's in a situation like Jones was in as a rookie: Playing opposite an established receiver. That's a perk for any wideout much less a rookie, since coverage should be tilted away from him. The end result should be plenty of one-on-one matchups for Floyd and his quarterbacks to consider. But unlike Jones, Floyd's quarterback situation is rocky, which was the case during his senior year in college when he still managed to grab 100 passes for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. He won't do quite that well as a rookie -- figure for him to land in the 700-yard, five-touchdown range -- but there will be weeks where he'll pay off.

Keeper-league target ... Rob Housler, tight end
The big trend in football is to find mismatches with enormous targets against smaller defensive backs and linebackers. The Cardinals have a potential matchup buster in Housler, who is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He was buried on the depth chart last year behind veterans Todd Heap and Jeff King, catching only a dozen passes for a weak 11.1 yard average. His opportunities have nowhere to go but up, especially with King nursing a quad injury and Heap injury prone and due to make over $2 million in a contract year.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
SEA @NE PHI MIA @STL BUF @MIN SF @GB bye @ATL STL @NYJ @SEA DET CHI @SF

The Cardinals are up and coming, but a tough schedule could keep them down. Playing the AFC East is already tough enough but they are the only NFC West team taking on two of them on the road at 1 p.m. ET. Their game at the Patriots comes in Week 2 and is their only outdoor matchup in the first eight weeks of the season. It wouldn't be a surprise to see some life from the entire offense early on before things get challenging at midseason. Beanie Wells especially looks like a good guy to ride early in the season and bail on before Week 8. Two nice perks: The Cards have 11 dome games overall, and their matchup at San Francisco is neatly tucked into Week 17.

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Beanie Wells 245 carries, 10 catches
Larry Fitzgerald 80 catches
LaRod Stephens-Howling 43 carries, 13 catches
Early Doucet 54 catches
Andre Roberts 51 catches, 3 carries

There's a lot of sorting ahead for the Cardinals. Who will be their quarterback to kick off the season? How many reps will Wells land on a week to week basis? How much work will Floyd get right away? How the coaches choose to manage their personnel in camp this summer will shed a lot of light on what to expect right from the start of the season.

For Fantasy purposes, keeping close tabs on Wells and Williams is a must. Both have knee issues that will likely keep them from seeing big doses of practice snaps day after day. If they both make it through camp unscathed, odds are on Wells playing two-thirds of the time and Williams one-third of the time. Williams might see a nudge in reps as the third-down back while Wells is better suited for the goal line.

The Cardinals defense doesn't have as many questions, and they're actually in a position to improve in 2012. Gone are aged vets Joey Porter, Vonnie Holliday and Clark Haggans. Returning are Calais Campbell (with a fresh new contract), unheralded pass rushers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield and a secondary bolstered by free-agent addition William Gay and returning nickelback Greg Toler. If the Cardinals can keep up the heavy production from Acho and Schofield while containing the opposing run game, they might win a bunch of 20-19 and 17-16 type games.

As for the quarterbacks, Fantasy owners shouldn't count on either Kolb or Skelton to be contributors. Heck, they're barely decent backup choices. With the quarterback talent pool so deep and neither passer promised to play 10-plus games, they're best left to the waiver wire and not your standard roster.

Injury update

Ryan Williams (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Beanie Wells (knee; probable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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