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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
Browns QB Brian Hoyer: 'Maybe it's good we lost last week'
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(11:08 am ET) Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer has expressed both anger over his effort Sunday at Jacksonville and hopefulness that the dud of the team performance will prove to be a positive in the long run.

Hoyer had his worst game with Cleveland, completing just 16 of 41 passes for 215 yards. He also threw an interception, lost a fumble, had four tosses batted down and finished with a career-worst passer rating of 46.3.

"Of all the games I've every played, that's the worst I've ever felt after one, and it's something you have to deal with learning on the job," he told the Akron Beacon Journal. "...For the first time in my career in the NFL, I played a bad game, and it sucks. I take a lot [of blame] on myself, and that's why I probably wasn't too pleasant to be around the past two days."

Hoyer, however, claims that the team could benefit from the 24-6 defeat to a Jaguars team that had been winless entering play. After all, the Browns are preparing to play the 0-6 Raiders in Cleveland on Sunday.

"Maybe it's good we lost last week," he said. "I don't think we underestimated anyone. But I think now we see that no matter who we're playing, we have to be at our best, and there's no excuses and we have to go out and execute."


Jets WR Percy Harvin to media: Mum's the word
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:50 am ET) Newly acquired wideout Percy Harvin has told media members covering the Jets on Wednesday that he has been instructed not to conduct any interviews with them, per the New York Daily News.

It remains to be seen if Harvin fulfills media obligations by being allowed to speak on Friday, as the team promised.

With the Jets already having careened out out of the playoff race, the controversial acquisition of Harvin from Seattle has undergone great scrutiny. Harvin spoke on Monday about the circumstances involed in his departure from the Seahawks - including fights with fellow receivers Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate.


Falcons WR Harry Douglas back at practice, might play Week 8
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:45 am ET) After missing the last 10 practices, Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas finally returned to the practice field Thursday, coach Mike Smith announced. Smith added Douglas, who has missed the last four games, was limited in practice.

Smith hinted at a possibility of Douglas playing Week 8 against the Lions. Smith said the team will have to monitor Douglas' status over the next few days, per the team's official website.


Titans' Whisenhunt explains why Akeem Ayers was traded to Patriots
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(10:36 am ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt expressed Wednesday part of the reason the team traded Akeem Ayers to the Patriots was that he didn't provide a big enough boost on special teams, according to The Tennessean. Ayers, who was inactive for five of the team's seven games, was a second-round pick in 2011.

"I think we had an opportunity, and I think it was good for both parties,'' Whisenhunt said. "It gave Akeem a chance to get a fresh start, and it gave us a chance to get something in exchange for that.

"I think really a big part of it was special teams. When you're in that role, you've got to be able to contribute special teams wise, and we needed that, and we just didn't feel like we were getting enough in that area."


Healthy Gerhart could put squeeze on Jaguars RB Robinson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:30 am ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart appears on the verge of returning to game action after missing the last two weeks with a foot sprain. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

"He said he felt pretty good," Gus Bradley told the Florida Times-Union. "I think the last two weeks have been tough on him, but today he felt a lot better and felt like it was beneficial to have that time off."

Now it must be determined if he's still the featured back. He managed a 2.6 YPC average in 48 attempts before going down. Meanwhile, Denard Robinson emerged in Week 7 to rush for 127 yards on just 22 carries in the team's first victory of the season, a lopsided defeat of Cleveland.

"I think we'll continue to mix and match a little bit," said offensive coordinator Jeff Fisch. "I don't exactly how that will all play out yet."

The Jaguars host Miami on Sunday.


Seahawks coordinator 'disappointed' about Harvin's tenure with team
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(10:29 am ET) Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell expressed his disappointment wide receiver Percy Harvin wasn't able to have more personal success with the team prior to being traded to the Jets last week. Bevell, who was the Vikings offensive coordinator during Harvin's first two years in the NFL (2009-10), was hoping his history with Harvin would be a major factor during his tenure with Seattle.

"I was disappointed, you know. I was disappointed. I did have a history with him, and I thought it would be a different outcome. But I guess that’s just the way it went," Bevell said, per The News Tribune. "I think we have a phenomenal atmosphere here. It’s led by coach (Pete) Carroll. I think he gives the guys great freedom to be who they want to be. I think he sets the tone for the whole program. It’s an upbeat program. Obviously we are very positive here. It’s just disappointing."

Harvin recently expressed his disappointment with how he was used on offense in Seattle. Bevell said he called bubble screens and hitch routes for Harvin to keep teams from double-teaming him downfield.

"I had many conversations with him about it, just about his role and the things that we would ask him to do. He never articulated that to me," Bevell said. "I mean, he caught a deep ball in the Washington game (40 yards for what would have been a touchdown but for a personal foul on guard James Carpenter that negated the catch); unfortunately it got called back. But the thing was we wanted to make sure he was going to be involved in the game and get the touches. You know, you can just double team somebody and just take him out of the game (with deeper balls). He never did. But we’ve moved on past that. It’s left in the past."


Report: Lions blew protocol Sunday in case of LaAdrian Waddle
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:19 am ET) The Lions allowed right tackle LaAdrian Waddle to return to the game Sunday against New Orleans after slamming his head to the turf on the extra point that secured the victory, the Detroit Free Press has reported.

Jim Caldwell admitted that Thursday despite claiming that he and general manager Martin Mayhew followed NFL concussion protocol "to the letter."

Waddle stayed in the game for the kneel-down play that ran the final seconds off the clock. "We knew exactly when it occurred and what happened within the context of it," Caldwell said. "It was the last play of the game for him. It was actually on a field goal, the PAT at the end. It's the last play of the game for him."

Protocol requires that a player must be removed if a brain injury is suspected. Yet Waddle was indeed in the game thereafter. Why was he allowed to return to the field?

"Well, in terms of they knew exactly what happened to him in terms of he banged his head on the ground after where he gets up," Caldwell said. "It wasn't to the point where they thought he was concussed at the time. The final snap of the game, we knew it was only one snap, then the doctors reviewed him, took a look at him, it wasn't one of those situations where he felt he had to go in the locker room right away. But they did know he banged it when he came off, and that he was good."

Waddle did not participate in Wednesday practice.


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(10:18 am ET) Lions running back Reggie Bush (ankle), tight end Eric Ebron (hamstring), tight end Joseph Fauria (ankle) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (foot) all sat out practice Thursday. Bush was the only player of the four to practice Wednesday.

The Lions are preparing to play the Falcons in Week 8.


Mayhew: Lions plan to activate T.J. Jones off PUP list soon
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(10:14 am ET) Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Thursday the team plans to activate wide receiver T.J. Jones off the PUP list in the coming weeks, per the team's official website. Jones has been sidelined all season due to a shoulder injury.

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