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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
Ex-teammate: Marshawn Lynch to hold out of training camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who's reportedly unhappy with his contract, is expected to hold out of training camp, former teammate Michael Robinson told NFL Network Total Access on Thursday.

"Marshawn Lynch just called me, we just talked. He said he will be holding out from training camp," Robinson said on the show.

Lynch attended the team's mandatory minicamp and is subject to fines if he holds out of training camp. He totaled over 1,500 yards of offense with 14 total touchdowns last year but had over 400 total touches between the regular season and postseason.


Chris Johnson looks 'light on his feet, and fast'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) Jets running back Chris Johnson, who had offseason knee surgery, "looked light on his feet, and fast" at practice Thursday, reports ESPN.com. "I haven't really [gone] 100 percent with the team since I have been here so being able to go out there and run and do all the team periods felt good," Johnson said.

The Jets used him on rushing plays and also lined him up wide as a receiver. Johnson fumbled on a running play but overall "seemed right at home," the website said. "I felt good," Johnson said. "I felt no pain or anything like that."

His main competition for carries, Chris Ivory, sat out with a hamstring problem.


Bills make roster moves
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) The Bills claimed center Jared Wheeler off waivers from the Panthers and waived/injured cornerback Brandon Smith.

Giants working extensively on no-huddle
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) The Giants ran 59 no-huddle plays all of last season. That represented 4.7 percent of their total plays. In contrast, the Eagles ran a league-high 705 no-huddle plays (51.1 percent) and the Broncos ran 537 (35.4 percent).

It appears the Giants plan to have Eli Manning operating out of the no-huddle more often. Their first three practices featured frequent use of the no-huddle.

"It keeps defenses on their toes," running back Rashad Jennings said. "[Offensive coordinator Ben] McAdoo has a way to keep the defense on their toes, put pressure on them, get the long shots, get the grinding yards. It’s a lot of different ways to attack a defense. Also, it puts a lot of ownership on the players to learn the playbook. It puts the capability in the quarterback’s hands to make decisions."

Jennings said the team can run its entire offense out of the no-huddle. Wideout Rueben Randle also loves it.

"It gives us time to get set and see what the defense is going to do, to keep them out of position," he said. "Switching in our personnel to take advantage of the personnel they have out there. Hopefully, they’re in regular [defense] and we’re in three-wide, so we can spread the ball out a little bit and use our speed to make a few plays."


Steve Smith 'puts on a show'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) New Ravens receiver Steve Smith "put on a show" in the team's first training camp practice, reports ESPN.com. Smith faked out starting corner Lardarius Webb on an out route, then beat Webb and projected No. 3 corner Chykie Brown on deep passes, the report said.

The website also credited Smith with raising the intensity level at practice.


Vince Wilfork practicing without limitations
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who's coming back from a ruptured Achilles, looked good during the team's first practice and said he's working without restrictions.

"If I had limitations, I wouldn’t be practicing," Wilfork told the Boston Herald. "My job is to help my teammates the best way I can, whatever that may be. The only way for me to help my teammates is to be on the field and be healthy. Right now, I’m on the field and I’m healthy. If anything happens in the future, I can’t predict that. But right now my job is to help this team the best way I can and get better each day and that’s what I’m going to do."


Ronald Leary has strained hamstring
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) Cowboys starting guard Ronald Leary strained his hamstring taking a conditioning test Monday, reports ESPN.com. He's starting camp on the PUP list. It's unclear how long he'll be out.

Jamaal Charles gets $8.3 million guaranteed
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) Jamaal Charles' four-year contract extension includes $8.3 million guaranteed but no guaranteed money beyond this season, reports Pro Football Talk. The Chiefs' star running back is now signed through 2017.

Marcus Lattimore on NFI list with two injuries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/24/2014) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said running back Marcus Lattimore is starting camp on the non-football injury list because that's what doctors and trainers recommended, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Asked if the problem was Lattimore's surgically reconstructed knee or the hamstring strain he suffered in the spring, Harbaugh replied, "A combination of the two." Harbaugh declined to elaborate.

Other reports indicate Lattimore is not too far away from being ready. He could be activated at any time.


'Won't be too long' until Knowshon Moreno returns for Miami
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7/24/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he's not worried about Knowshon Moreno coming back in bad shape. The team opens training camp on Thursday and will begin practicing soon thereafter. Moreno had offseason knee surgery after reportedly showing up to camp out of shape. 

"Not full throttle 100 percent reps yet but won't be too long," Philbin said of Moreno via the Miami Herald.


 
 
 
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