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2014 Draft Prep: Have faith in Cardinals offense

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You would think I'm from Phoenix or have been rooting for Larry Centers and Aeneas Williams from childhood based on how much I hype the Cardinals. I just love this offense.

You will love it, too.

The Cardinals have three must-start Fantasy options in Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Carson Palmer is a sleeper quarterback, rookie John Brown is a sleeper receiver and either Jonathan Dwyer or Stepfan Taylor could play a role for owners at some point this season.

Coach Bruce Arians should allow the Cardinals to put up a lot of points, which will help Fantasy owners if you're willing to buy in. We saw flashes of what this offense could do toward the end of last season, but this year could bring plenty of rewards.

We'll start with Palmer. He might seem old at 34, but he's coming off a career season in 2013, his first under Arians. Palmer passed for a career-high 4,274 yards on 63 percent completions with 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, which were also a career high.

Interceptions come with an Arians offense -- Andrew Luck had 18 as a rookie in 2012 when Arians was with the Colts -- but this is a volume passing attack. Palmer attempted 572 passes last season, which was 10th in the NFL. You can count on 600-plus attempts if he stays healthy in 2014.

We saw Palmer start to grasp Arians' offense after Arizona's 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.

Now he's got a full offseason to master the offense and he could be this year's version of Philip Rivers as a veteran quarterback you draft late but surprises as a top-10 option. I plan to target him with a late-round pick in all leagues.

One of his main weapons will be Ellington, who I consider one of the best breakout candidates this season. He was the No. 24 Fantasy running back in standard leagues as a rookie in 2013 despite playing behind Rashard Mendenhall, who has retired.

Ellington had 118 carries for 652 yards and three touchdowns and 39 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. Arians plans to use Ellington like a workhorse -- 20-25 touches are a possibility -- and the one area he could lose out is goal-line carries, which is where Dwyer and Taylor come in.

But Ellington has star potential. 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. The upside is endless and he's worth drafting in Round 3 in standard leagues and Round 2 in PPR formats. He's one of my favorite players this year.

Another favorite is Floyd. He's entering his third season, which is when receivers have the chance for a breakout campaign, and Floyd is trending in the right direction.

He was solid 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-15 Fantasy receiver this season -- he was No. 24 last year.

There are some in Arizona who believe Floyd is better than Fitzgerald, but we're not ready to go there yet. The good news is you can draft Floyd in Round 4 or 5, and he might easily eclipse that value.

Fitzgerald showed last season he's not done yet with 82 catches for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns, which was his first time scoring in double digits since 2009. But he now has consecutive seasons with fewer than 1,000 yards, and he's gone three years in a row with less than 90 catches.

Here's a stat to love, however. He led all receivers in red-zone targets with 24 and he should again remain involved near the end zone. Floyd only had 14 red-zone targets last year. In the first preseason game against Houston, Fitzgerald scored on a 7-yard touchdown.

You don't have to reach for Fitzgerald this season, but you can let him fall to you in Round 4. There's still plenty of upside for him in this offense and he should again finish as a top-20 Fantasy receiver.

Brown is a receiver to monitor this season. The Cardinals like the rookie from Pittsburg State and he could emerge as the No. 3 receiver behind Fitzgerald and Floyd. Brown has done well this preseason with 10 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown.

He's not worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but he is someone to potentially use during the season as a bye-week or injury replacement if he continues to play like he's shown in the preseason.

Dwyer and Taylor will compete for the goal-line and short-yardage role behind Ellington and the winner could be a good source of touchdowns. Mendenhall had eight touchdowns last seaso and the Cardinals don't seem inclined to use Ellington in that role.

So far, Dwyer has done a better job than Taylor, including a rushing touchdown in the second preseason game against Minnesota. We wouldn't draft either guy, but this is a position to monitor, especially if Ellington were to get hurt.

Fantasy owners afraid of the Cardinals will point to their division with matchups against San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis, but Arizona scored at least 20 points against those teams in five of six meetings. The lone time the Cardinals were under 20 points was the surprise 17-10 win at Seattle in Week 16.

The offensive line is also brought up, but Arizona should be improved with the addition of new left tackle Jared Veldheer. As an example, Palmer wasn't sacked in the third preseason game against the Bengals, who have a stout pass rush.

And with a defense missing Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett, the offense could be in more shootouts, which is obviously a positive for Fantasy owners.

So shy away from the Cardinals if you want, but I'm all in. This is going to be an explosive year in the desert, and Arizona will be a team full of Fantasy fun.

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Player News
Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders limited by hip injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:54 pm ET) Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders was limited in practice for the second straight day Thursday due to a hip injury, reports the Denver Post. He's fully expected to start Sunday's game against the Raiders.

Denver, which will clinch a first-round bye with a victory, is a two-touchdown favorite.

Playing with Peyton Manning, Sanders has set career highs with 95 catches for 1,331 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught five balls for 67 yards and two scores in the Week 10 win at Oakland.


Jets add RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) to injury report
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:43 pm ET) The Jets added running back Chris Ivory to the injury report Thursday, saying he was limited by a hamstring injury, reports ESPN.com. Ivory, who's battled hamstring problems in the past, leads New York with 792 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

The Jets are 6-point underdogs in Sunday's season finale at Miami. Ivory was held to 62 rushing yards on 16 carries in the Week 13 home loss to the Dolphins.


Lions WR Calvin Johnson returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Lions wideout Calvin Johnson, held out Wednesday due to an ankle injury, returned to a limited practice Thursday ahead of Sunday's NFC North showdown at Green Bay. Johnson caught six passes for 82 yards in the first meeting with the Packers.

Update: Lions RB Joique Bell 'should be fine' for Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:19 pm ET) Lions running back Joique Bell (Achilles) practiced fully Thursday after being limited Wednesday and "should be fine" for Sunday's game at Green Bay, reports the team's website. Earlier reports indicated Bell's status was in doubt, especially after coach Jim Caldwell replied, "We'll see," when asked if Bell would be able to play.

Bell leads Detroit with 800 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns, including five in the past four games. The Lions are 7.5-point underdogs in the game for the NFC North crown.


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.


 
 
 
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