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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
Report: Stevan Ridley visiting Dolphins Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:57 pm ET) Free-agent running back Stevan Ridley is visiting the Dolphins Tuesday, the Miami Herald reports.

Ridley spent his first four seasons with the Patriots but struggled in 2014, rushing for just 340 yards and two touchdowns on 94 carries. He did rack up a career-high 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. The running back underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in November.


Pagano: Andre Johnson brings a 'big, physical presence' to Colts
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:43 pm ET) Colts coach Chuck Pagano sees wide receiver Andre Johnson as a big presence underneath for the team's offense, adding a complementary piece to the speed of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, ESPN.com reports.

"He's a big body guy that can still separate, create separation," Pagano said. "He's got a big catch radius. But again, the contested catches that you see on tape. It's very difficult to match up. There are few corners in the league that have length and size to match up but most are aren't on that size and they get pushed around a little bit. He's going to be able to bring that big, physical presence to us."

Johnson managed just 936 yards and three touchdowns on 85 receptions in 15 games in 2014, marking the first time he's played at least 10 games but not reached 1,000 yards since 2005. However, Pagano doesn't think Johnson has taken a step back.

"You don't see a huge dropoff numbers-wise," Pagano said. "Maybe in touchdowns. But you still see a guy who is more than capable of stretching the defense. Certainly somebody who an opponent can't just line up and say, 'Don't worry about Andre Johnson.' They're still going to have to tend to him if you will. If they choose to double [Hilton] and take him out of the game, you have another guy on the other side, along with the rest of the guys on the roster who can still stretch the defense. He's a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He's got a big catch radius. A big body. Those guys are hard to defend."


Report: Ravens interested in TE Rob Housler
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) The Ravens and tight end Rob Housler have mutual interest, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The two sides have held contract discussions and while a deal has yet to be reached, both the Ravens and Housler will continue working toward a compromise. He could serve as an athletic pass-catching tight end in new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman's offense if signed.

Housler posted career lows in 2014, grabbing just nine passes for 129 yards.


Saints to start Jahri Evans, Tim Lelito at guard in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) Saints coach Sean Payton said at the annual NFL meeting that he doesn't think the moves the team has made this offseason have opened any holes in the starting lineup, indicating specifically that Tim Lelito would join Jahri Evans as the team's starting guards after the departure of Ben Grubbs, Saints.com reports.

"Those aren’t holes," Payton said about losing Grubbs and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. "We’re not moving a player if we feel like there’s no…we feel like we have a pretty good idea of how everything is lining up. We’ve got a center we know that starts in this NFL, we’ve got a guard, (Tim) Lelito will play left guard, Jahri Evans is the right guard. The same way at receiver. So we weren’t looking to make a move that created another 'must'."

Lelito played 294 snaps on offense last season, per Pro Football Focus, and graded out positively as a run blocker and negatively as a pass blocker.  He was an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State in 2013.


Lions' Caldwell expects Theo Riddick to have large role in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:19 pm ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell expects running back Theo Riddick to help boost a rushing attack that ranked 28th in 2014 and cut Reggie Bush after the season, MLive.com reports.

"We try and give (the ball) to the guys who are going to do something with it, and I think he's going to be one of those guys who's going to force us to give him the ball more," Caldwell said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "I think you're really going to see him come along."

Riddick rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries in 2014 and added 316 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches.

"I can't tell you he's going to carry the ball 50 more times, or I can't tell you he's going to get the ball thrown to him 30 more times, until we have a chance to work through this gauntlet. Know what I mean?" Caldwell said. "When we get to the end of the gauntlet, then maybe I can give you a little more of a view. But I'm never going to tell you, 'Hey, we expect this guy to do this or that.' What role he plays, how much he's going to get it, kind of depends on how well we move the ball and how many opportunities we get, what kind of game it is, are we playing great defense, that kind of thing.

"But I will say that he's going to improve. He has all the qualities. Here's the thing -- if you're smart, if you're tough, if you're disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there's improvement ahead. And he has all those things. So I think he's going to improve, and I think he's going to force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations."


Jaguars waive FB Bradie Ewing
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Jaguars waived fullback Bradie Ewing on Tuesday, according to ESPN. Ewing, 25, has not played since 2013 when he was a member of the Falcons. The moves leaves Jacksonville without a fullback on the roster.

Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


 
 
 
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