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Offseason Primers: Arizona Cardinals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Cardinals made two important moves this offseason, and Larry Fitzgerald couldn't be any happier. They added an offensive-minded coach who likes downfield passing in Bruce Arians, and they traded for a capable quarterback in Carson Palmer.

Has Fitzgerald stopped smiling yet?

The Kevin Kolb experiment is over after he was cut this offseason, and the Cardinals are now going with Palmer after he was added in a trade from Oakland. Arians will do a great job of helping Palmer improve. After all, he turned Ben Roethlisberger into a star and helped Andrew Luck develop into a future standout in his past two stops as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, respectively.

2012 Touches Leaders
689 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
LaRod Stephens-Howling 127 (110 car., 17 rec.) 18.4%
Beanie Wells 89 (88 car., 1 rec.) 12.9%
William Powell 79 (60 car., 19 rec.) 11.4%
Larry Fitzgerald 71 rec. 10.3%
Andre Roberts 68 (4 car., 64 rec.) 9.8%
All Others 255 37.0%

The Cardinals still have to fix an abysmal offensive line that allowed 58 sacks, which were the most in the NFL, and that should be a tough task for Arians. But there are plenty of positives in the desert, and Fantasy owners should pay attention on Draft Day.

They also added Rashard Mendenhall, and he should return as a starting Fantasy running back. And Fitzgerald should rebound from a down year in 2012 thanks to Arians and Palmer. Arizona also has other quality receiving options in Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler, and we hope Palmer can maximize their talents, which would create more options for us to choose from.

Larry Fitzgerald -- Bounce-back candidate

2012 Target Leaders
608 pass attempts
Larry Fitzgerald 156 25.6%
Andre Roberts 114 18.7%
Michael Floyd 86 14.1%
Rob Housler 68 11.1%
Early Doucet 53 8.7%
All Others 131 21.5%

No one was happier with the addition of Arians and Palmer than Fitzgerald. He needs a change because 2012 was the worst season of his career, and it was predominately because of poor quarterback play. Fitzgerald was limited to 71 catches for 798 yards and four touchdowns, and he finished as the No. 41 receiver despite being the seventh-most targeted receiver (156) in the NFL. So it was clear the Cardinals were trying to get Fitzgerald the ball, but they weren't having much success. Now, the Cardinals have a coach who likes to get the ball down field and a capable quarterback, and that will only help Fitzgerald improve. He should be considered a low-end No. 1/high-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day, and we recommend drafting him with a pick in Round 4. If he bounces back as expected then he should be a steal. And something to keep in mind: Arians took Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis coming off a down year in 2011 and returned him to prominence in 2012. Of course, he had Luck on his side. We can only hope Fitzgerald has a similar outcome with Palmer in his future.

Rashard Mendenhall -- Bounce-back candidate, take II

I spoke with Arians at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, and he hinted that Mendenhall would be the starter this season. "I prefer one guy," Arians said, and he gushed about Mendenhall since the two have a history going back to Pittsburgh. "Adding a player the caliber of Rashard, a proven back who can carry you to the Super Bowl, not only helps the football team but it helps your locker room. Obviously we have a good history together. I know how to use him. He's a heck of a player in all phases. He never has to come out of the game." Mendenhall struggled in 2012, his last with the Steelers, after coming back from a torn ACL in 2011. But he averaged over 1,000 rushing yards a season from 2009-11 before getting hurt. He will likely share carries with Ryan Williams, but Mendenhall has the potential to be a No. 2 Fantasy running back. He's worth drafting as early as Round 5 in the majority of leagues.

Michael Floyd -- Late-round flier

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Carson Palmer 155-163 overall
Brian Hoyer Undrafted
Rashard Mendenhall 39-44 overall
Ryan Williams 92-100 overall
Larry Fitzgerald 42-49 overall
Michael Floyd Undrafted
Andre Roberts Undrafted
Rob Housler Undrafted

Floyd, like most of the Cardinals offensive players, had a down year in 2012. He's hoping his second year in the NFL will go a little better. As a rookie last season, Floyd had 45 catches for 562 yards and two touchdowns. He was the No. 3 receiver behind Fitzgerald and Roberts, but his role is expected to expand this season. He closed 2012 on a high note with eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown in Week 17 on 14 targets, and we hope he can build off that performance. Floyd is worth a late-round flier in all leagues this year, especially with the addition of Palmer, and he should be taken with a mid-round selection in dynasty leagues. We expect Floyd to eventually become a playmaker, but the passing attack in Arizona will have to improve for that to happen.

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

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Player News
Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:11 pm ET) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


Browns' Josh McCown not bothered by 'game manager' label
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Browns quarterback Josh McCown brushes off the negative connotation around phrases like "game manager" and "building around the quarterback," per the team's website.

"That stuff doesn't bother me," McCown said after Tuesday’s OTA. "We're trying to win a championship. You can call it what you want to call it. I just want to win football games. That's my main focus. I understand who I am and how I want to go about winning football games. That's the key for us."

Coach Mike Pettine understands why McCown was attracted to Cleveland as a potential landing spot this offseason.

"I think he sees that as potentially a way to win football games," Pettine said. "I think virtually any quarterback in the league, if we said, ‘Hey, we want to get you in second-and-5 and not second-and-11. We want to get you in third-and-2 and not third-and-8,’ I think they’d all be appreciative of that."

McCown also had praise for his new offensive line after getting to work with the unit.

"I knew they were physically good, you see it on tape, but these guys are so smart," McCown said. "It's rare to get a group of five guys that can really see the field the way they do. I've said this all along, they were a big reason why I wanted to come here. After being with them now the last five or six weeks, had I known it was this good, I might not have even had to take a visit (before signing). They're really sharp. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them."


Jaguars' Denard Robinson ready for second try as kick returner
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:33 pm ET) Jaguars running back Denard Robinson is getting a shot at being the team's kick returner this offseason, a role he hasn't performed since early in his rookie season, but he's ready for the challenge, ESPN.com reports.

"Anything they ask me to do, I’m doing," Robinson said. "Now I feel more comfortable [returning kicks] than I was my rookie year."

General manager David Caldwell has said that while Robinson will get work returning kicks, he'd still have a significant role on offense. The running back hasn't dwelled on the comment.

"You just go out there and do yourself," Robinson said. "Do your thing and have fun and get better every day."

Robinson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 135 rushes last season while racking up 582 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Jaguars are expected to use rookie T.J. Yeldon as their primary runner in 2015.


Jaguars' Toby Gerhart feels for first time since last September
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart is expected to fill an H-back role after the team selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round, but he's worried less about his role and focusing on the fact that he's back to full health, ESPN.com reports.

"It’s feeling good," Gerhart said of the ankle that bothered him all of last season. "I feel healthy for the first time since last September. Feeling good and excited to go out there and be healthy and fresh this spring and show what I can do and compete."

Gerhart's new role will open him up to be a bigger part of the passing game.

"I’m learning the F [H-back] and running some of that and also taking just as many reps at tailback and competing and just trying to be the best I can be and see what happens," Gerhart said. "A lot of it so far has been a lot of routes and stuff like that, not so much iso downhill, more get me out in the flat, get me in pass pro and get out. It’s exciting to move around and we’ll see what happens."

Gerhart averaged just 3.2 yards on 101 carries last season while scoring two touchdowns. His average of 9.3 yards per reception represented a season high.


Eagles' Walter Thurmond moves to safety
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:20 pm ET) The Eagles have made a lot of moves to improve their defense this offseason, one of which was to bring Walter Thurmond aboard.

Most thought he would play cornerback, but Chip Kelly announced Thursday that Thurmond has moved to safety, per nj.com.

Thurmond said the coaching staff approached him about the idea some time ago, giving him the option to compete at either position. 

"It was a couple weeks ago, just after the draft, they asked me how I would feel about moving to safety,'' Thurmond said. "They said I could stay and compete at corner, or I could move to safety and compete there. After drafting three corners, even though some of them might be safeties, they thought it would be better for me at safety. I'm good with it. I just want to play."

The move is intriguing given that Thurmond has never played a game at the safety position, but he isn't concerned too much about that.

"I've played it in practice, but never in a game,'' Thurmond said. "In this defense, though, it's not much different than playing in the nickel.''


 
 
 
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