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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
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles limited Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:10 pm ET) Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was limited in Thursday's practice with hamstring and ankle injuries, per the team's website. He'll play Sunday against the Chargers in a game with playoff implications.

Kansas City is a 3-point home favorite.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:05 pm ET) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe missed his second straight practice Thursday due to a shoulder injury. Bowe sprained his shoulder in the Week 16 loss at Pittsburgh.

His status is uncertain for Sunday's home game against San Diego.


Falcons WRs Roddy White, Harry Douglas back at practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:51 pm ET) Falcons receivers Roddy White (ankle) and Harry Douglas (foot) returned to practice Thursday ahead of Sunday's division-deciding game against Carolina. While wideout Julio Jones (oblique) remained sidelined, he's expected to start opposite White with Douglas serving as the No. 3 receiver.

Atlanta is a 4-point home favorite to capture the NFC South.


Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph not looking good for Week 17
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph remained unable to practice Thursday due to knee and ankle injuries, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It appears he'll miss his second straight game Sunday against Chicago, with Chase Ford getting another start.

Minnesota is a 6-point home favorite.


Bengals WR A.J. Green (arm) returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:05 pm ET) Bengals receiver A.J. Green (bruised bicep) returned to a limited practice Thursday, reports the team's website. Green now seems likely to play Sunday at Pittsburgh with the AFC North title at stake.

Even in an injury-plagued year, Green leads Cincy with 61 catches for 959 yards and six touchdowns. How effective he'll be Sunday night remains to be seen. But Green's return to practice is good news for the Bengals, who are 3.5-point underdogs.

In the first meeting with the Steelers, Green exploded for 11 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown.


Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray out sick Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray won't practice Thursday. He was sent home because he's sick, reports the Dallas Morning News.

Murray, who underwent surgery Dec. 15 on his broken left hand, is fully expected to play Sunday at Washington after getting 22 carries in the Week 16 blowout of the Colts. Dallas is favored by 5.5 or 6 points at Vegas sportsbooks.


Lions RB Joique Bell (Achilles) might miss NFC North showdown
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:32 pm ET) The Lions might not have running back Joique Bell for Sunday's key game at Green Bay, reports MLive.com. Bell has been limited in practice this week with an Achilles injury, and coach Jim Caldwell said only, "We'll see," when asked about Bell's status.

Bell leads Detroit with 800 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. He's averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in four straight games, scoring five times in that span. If he can't play, Reggie Bush would start and Theo Riddick and George Winn would get increased snaps, the report said.

Detroit is a 7.5-point underdog in the game that will decide the division title.


Falcons WR Julio Jones (oblique) held out again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:15 pm ET) Falcons wideout Julio Jones did not practice for the second straight day Thursday due to his oblique injury, but he's expected to play Sunday against the Panthers, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta is a 4-point home favorite in the de facto NFC South title game.

Report: Cardinals reverse course, will start QB Ryan Lindley
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:12 pm ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has changed his mind and will start quarterback Ryan Lindley, not rookie Logan Thomas, in Sunday's game at San Francisco, reports the Arizona Republic. Lindley hit 18 of 44 throws for 216 yards with an interception in the Week 16 loss to Seattle. He has not thrown a touchdown in 225 career pass attempts.

Arians earlier said he'd play Thomas for at least the first half. But that was before Thomas failed to inspire confidence at Wednesday's practice.

Thomas has appeared in two games, completing 1 of 9 throws. Starter Drew Stanton (knee) is not expected to be ready until the playoffs.

Arizona remains a 6-point underdog Sunday.


Chip Kelly not fully committed to Nick Foles for 2015
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) Asked about his quarterback situation heading into 2015, Eagles coach Chip Kelly expressed support for Nick Foles but did not fully endorse him as the team's quarterback of the future, reports Philly.com. Kelly said he needs to make a decision on Foles based on his limited body of work.

"The reality is the reality," Kelly said, referring to the broken collarbone that ended Foles' season after eight games.

"I can't say, 'Hey, let's not make a decision because I need to see him play 16 more games.' In certain times we're going to have to make decisions, so you have to make it based on what you have. We don't have any control over the injury."

Foles threw 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this year after sparkling with 27 touchdowns and two picks last season. Foles has one more year on his contract at $660,000, while replacement Mark Sanchez is scheduled for free agency. Matt Barkley is signed for two more years but has thrown one pass this season.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur sounds like a believer in Foles.

"I think we know what we have in Nick, and we've seen a guy that I think, by last count, he's 14-4 as a starter," Shurmur said. "So that's really how you judge a quarterback."


 
 
 
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