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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Arizona Cardinals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If the Cardinals were in the AFC they would have made the playoffs in 2013 with their 10-6 finish. Instead, they were on the outside looking in as the seventh-best team in their conference.

While commissioner Roger Goodell hopes to expand the NFL playoffs in the near future to help teams like Arizona, it doesn't make the Cardinals feel any better after missing out a year ago. This season, the team hopes to accomplish the feat without any outside help.

Arizona definitely has the pieces in place to make it happen. The offense should be better with a full year in coach Bruce Arians' system, as well as an improved offensive line with the return of left guard Jonathan Cooper and the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. The defense will miss linebacker Daryl Washington (suspension), but this is still an above-average unit without him.

From a Fantasy perspective, there is a lot to like about this team. Carson Palmer could be a surprise option as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with starter potential. Andre Ellington is a breakout candidate at running back, and Stepfan Taylor is a sleeper. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd could easily finish as Top 20 receivers. And the DST is a Top 10 unit coming into the season.

Whether or not the Cardinals make the playoffs is not really our main concern. But we hope there are a lot of points coming out of the desert this season as they try to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Breakout No. 1 ... Andre Ellington

In separate conversations this offseason, two members of the Cardinals organization used lofty comparisons for Ellington when talking about him as having a similar skill set to Jamaal Charles. We hope that's accurate, but it will be hard for the second-year running back to become that good right away.

Still, there is a lot to like about Ellington this year. In a secondary role behind Rashard Mendenhall last year, Ellington was the No. 24 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 118 carries for 652 yards and three touchdowns and 39 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown.

Mendenhall retired this offseason, and Ellington will handle the featured role. Arians has said he'd like Ellington to get 25-30 touches a game, and if he can repeat his averages from a year ago -- his 5.5 yards per carry led the NFL among running backs with at least 100 carries, and he had 9.5 yards per catch -- then his production could be outstanding.

Taylor has the chance to lead the Cardinals in rushing touchdowns because Ellington isn't suited for short-yardage situations at 5-foot-9, 199 pounds. But he could get 1,500 total yards with seven touchdowns, and I'd gamble on that type of production with a pick as early as Round 3 in the majority of leagues.

Ellington is one of my favorite players coming into this year. As for Taylor, target him with a late-round pick since Mendenhall had eight rushing touchdowns in 2013, and Taylor could help pick up that slack.

Breakout No. 2 ... Michael Floyd

I like third-year receivers, especially ones with big-play ability in a high-powered offense. Floyd fits the bill, and he has the chance for a standout season in 2014.

He already had a big year in 2013 with 65 catches for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, and he posted nine games with at least eight Fantasy points, including four with double digits. But there's still room for improvement, and he could easily be a Top 20 Fantasy receiver this season (he was No. 24 last year).

The Cardinals have said collectively that the offense feels more comfortable this season after a year playing for Arians, and he will continue to attack defenses down the field. While Fitzgerald still draws plenty of attention, Floyd should continue to thrive in single coverage, and he's clearly developed a solid rapport with Palmer.

You can draft Floyd as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver this season, but ideally he will be your No. 3 option or a flex. If he scored one more touchdown in 2013 he would have been the No. 19 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, so he doesn't have far to go to breakthrough as a Top 20 option.

Still capable ... Carson Palmer

2013 Touches Leaders
789 total touches
Rashard Mendenhall 235 (217 car., 18 rec.) 29.8%
Andre Ellington 157 (118 car., 39 rec.) 19.9%
Larry Fitzgerald 84 (2 car., 82 rec.) 10.6%
Michael Floyd 65 rec. 8.2%
Stepfan Taylor 44 (36 car., 8 rec.) 5.6%
All Others 264 33.5%

Palmer might be near the end of his career, but he's not finished as a Fantasy quarterback. He played well last season, his first in Arizona, with 4,274 passing yards on 63 percent completions with 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. It was a career high in passing yards but also a career high in interceptions.

He seemed to grasp Arians' offense as the season went on, especially following the bye in Week 9. In his final eight games, Palmer had four outings with at least 24 Fantasy points, four games with at least 300 passing yards and five games with multiple touchdowns.

That should carry over to this season, especially with an improved offensive line with Cooper and Veldheer now in the fold. The Cardinals have an elite receiving corps with Fitzgerald, Floyd and newcomer Ted Ginn, who adds another speed element at Palmer's disposal. And Ellington out of the backfield only adds to the mix.

The good news with Palmer is you don't have to draft him as a starting option, but he could easily become a Top 12 quarterback by the end of the year. This offense is poised for greatness, and Palmer could end up as a steal on Draft Day with a late-round pick.

Schedule analysis

The Cardinals only have one game on the East Coast for a 1 p.m. start, which is Week 2 at the Giants. They benefit with 11 games indoors with road matchups at Dallas, Atlanta and St. Louis to go with their eight home outings. And getting the defensive-challenged Cowboys and Falcons on the docket is a huge bonus. The matchup at Denver in Week 5 should be an offensive bonanza, and we hope the Cardinals can hold up at home against the Seahawks in Week 16 for the Fantasy championship game in most leagues.

Training camp battles

Who's the starting tight end? Arians has made it known he doesn't depend on his tight ends to catch passes, which hurts Rob Housler as a potential weapon. John Carlson and rookie Troy Niklas were added this offseason, and both should be better blockers than Housler. Neither of these tight ends will help your Fantasy team, but Carlson has the best chance to start based on his blocking prowess, his experience and Niklas suffering a broken hand in June. He should be fine for training camp, but the missed time will hurt his chances to start.

What's the pecking order at receiver? The Cardinals have a solid foursome with Fitzgerald, Floyd, Ginn and rookie John Brown. While the first two are the only ones who will be drafted in the majority of leagues, don't overlook Ginn and Brown as sleepers in deeper formats. Ginn actually played well as a receiver for the Panthers last year in a far inferior passing attack with 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns, and he could be a threat downfield for Palmer. And Brown could be the slot receiver after he caught 185 passes for 3,380 yards and 32 touchdowns at Pittsburg State. Keep them on your radar in the preseason.

Bold prediction

It's almost unfathomable that Fitzgerald has gone two years in a row with fewer than 85 catches and 1,000 yards. He did rebound last season with 10 touchdowns, which was the first time since 2009 that he reached double digits in touchdowns, but he's no longer considered an elite Fantasy receiver.

While that's fair, especially with the development of guys like Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant, Fitzgerald can definitely qualify for the next tier. We expect him to return as a Top 12 receiver this season. He was No. 16 in Fantasy points in a standard league last year, so he doesn't have far to go.

He closed last season playing at a high level when the Cardinals picked up their production in the passing game with double digits in Fantasy points in five of his final seven games. And that's what you can expect for the majority of this season.

I would love to get Fitzgerald in Round 4 in most formats, but don't hesitate to draft him in Round 3. He will have his best year since 2009, and he'll return as a Top 12 option.

Injury report

John Brown (hamstring), probable for start of training camp. ... Troy Niklas (hand), questionable for start of training camp. ... Tyrann Mathieu (knee), questionable for start of season. ... Daryl Washington (suspended), out for season

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Player News
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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