QB Carson Palmer
(2012 QB Rank – #16, 19.9 FPts/G)
Buyer beware. Palmer regularly gets lukewarm reviews as a fantasy QB, but he deserves more credit than he gets in that his arm isn’t nearly as bad as it is made out to be. Sure, elbow surgery has taken some zip off of his passes, especially his deep throws, but there are plenty of quarterbacks who have worse arm strength than Palmer. Despite having to play with a group of Raiders receivers that was among the worst in the league last season, Palmer threw for more than 4,000 yards for the third time in his career, with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. And that was despite missing almost two full games. In Arizona he gets a full set of receiving options in the form of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Robert Housler and an opportunity to operate new head coach Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack. There is some risk to drafting Palmer since his poor mobility is a bad fit playing behind a suspect Cardinals offensive line. Since Palmer finished last season as the 16th-ranked quarterback despite a lack of receiving talent, consider that his floor for 2013. Safely grab him as your QB2 and don’t be shocked if he is surprisingly productive.
RB Rashard Mendenhall
(2012 RB Rank – #83, 5.1 FPts/G; #84 PPR, 6.6 FPts/G)
He ain’t sexy, he’s Rashard Mendenhall. Insert collective yawn. A first-round pick of the Steelers in 2008, Mendenhall has failed to live up to his draft status. Even in 2010 when he ran for 1,274 yards and 13 touchdowns, he averaged a paltry 3.9 yards per carry, proving volume can make up for a lack of talent. A torn ACL late in the 2011 season limited Mendenhall’s production last season, as he carried the ball just 51 times for 182 yards and no touchdowns. Even more unimpressive is that he lost his job to a pair of middling talents in Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. However, he gets another chance in 2013, signed by the Cardinals in the offseason to a make-it contract and reunited with former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, now Arizona’s head coach. Even though the Cardinals have a crowded depth chart, it is populated by the unimpressive and injury-prone Ryan Williams and a pair of rookies in Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington. With Arians’ preference for using one back in a workhorse role, Mendenhall appears to be the first man up. Since the Cardinals offense can’t be any worse than it was last season and since Mendenhall is a solid short-yardage runner, he should be considered a mid-tier RB3 with upside in 2013.
RB Ryan Williams
(2012 RB Rank – #96, 4.2 FPts/G; #99 PPR, 5.6 FPts/G)
Two years into his career, Williams has done exactly nothing to justify the Cardinals having used a second-round pick to acquire him in the 2011 draft. A torn patella tendon caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign, and he missed 11 games last season because of a shoulder injury. And when Williams did play, he was awful, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and failing to find the end zone on 58 carries. Rashard Mendenhall has replaced Beanie Wells as the Cardinals’ starter at running back, but Williams has almost no chance of unseating him by opening day. That’s because he has missed time with a knee injury, further frustrating the coaches. With new management and a new coaching staff, Williams’ draft status will do nothing to enhance his chances of making the team. While plenty of pundits consider him a potential starter and sleeper candidate at running back, it won’t be a surprise if he finds himself on the street on opening day, provided rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington play reasonably well in the preseason. Even if Williams sticks, he will likely be relegated to a backup, pass-receiving role behind Mendenhall.
RB Stepfan Taylor
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s draft, Taylor joins a crowded Cardinals backfield that faces much uncertainty entering the season. Starter Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a pair of injury-plagued seasons, as is top backup Ryan Williams. Fellow rookie Andre Ellington needs to prove his worth as a receiving, chance-of-pace option, while Taylor has more size and could emerge as a player capable of fulfilling a more full-time role. The 5’9”, 214-pound Stanford product will need to have an impressive preseason to unseat Williams and challenge Mendenhall. While the opportunity is solid, Taylor’s upside isn’t. He lacks speed and agility and doesn’t have the size necessary to thrive as a short-yardage runner. However, with Williams struggling in the preseason, Taylor is definitely worthy of being owned in standard leagues. He is also a decent dynasty prospect, but you get the feeling that Arizona would add to its backfield stable if Mendenhall doesn’t produce in 2013.
RB Andre Ellington
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
The Cardinals drafted a pair of running backs this offseason, with Ellington being taken in the sixth round. While fifth-round pick Stepfan Taylor has more size, Ellington, at 5’9” and 199 pounds, will likely battle Ryan Williams to become the team’s change-of-pace and receiving back. While Williams has struggled with injuries both in the past and during training camp, Ellington hasn’t been able to take advantage of his absence because of a concussion. The Clemson product possesses solid speed and playmaking ability, but his use in 2013 likely depends on just how fed up the Cardinals are with Williams’ injuries and lack of productivity. That makes Ellington waiver-wire material in redraft leagues but a player to keep your eye on. He is also a decent prospect in dynasty formats.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
(2012 WR Rank – #42, 6.5 FPts/G; #33 PPR, 10.9 FPts/G)
You would be hard-pressed to find a player who remained healthy for 16 games and was a bigger fantasy disappointment than Fitzgerald. Just don’t go blaming him for that. Despite possessing some of the best hands in the league to go along with his 6’3” and 218-pound frame and excellent leaping ability, he caught just 45.5 percent of his targets in 2012. Blame that on the shoddy play of the Cardinals quarterbacks. Fitzgerald finished the season with just 71 receptions (the third lowest of his nine-year career) for 798 yards (the second lowest total of his career) and four touchdowns (a career low). Ouch. Want more ugly? He caught just six of his 37 targets during a four-game stretch from Week 11 to Week 14. He had nine games with four receptions or less. He failed to top 50 receiving yards eight times. Not pretty, but things are looking brighter for 2013 with Carson Palmer now heading up new head coach Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack. While Palmer isn’t a world-beater at this point of his career, he is light years better than the quarterbacks employed by Arizona in 2012. Can you say bounceback? Consider the 29-year old Fitzgerald a low-end WR1 for the coming season.
WR Michael Floyd
(2012 WR Rank – #68, 4.5 FPts/G; #65 PPR, 7.5 FPts/G)
Stuck behind Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts on the depth chart, Floyd struggled for much of his rookie season, finishing the year with modest totals of 45 receptions for 562 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Cardinals’ 2012 first-round pick was used sparingly for the first half of the season (just 18 targets over the first seven games) and failed to provide many big plays when given more of an opportunity over the second half of the season (outside of an eight-reception, 166-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the 49ers). Floyd had more than 50 receiving yards just twice, but the Cardinals envision a much bigger role for him in 2013. He is expected to unseat Roberts in the starting lineup, and with Carson Palmer now at quarterback, he is primed for major improvement. The issue is how much. Given his solid speed and size (6’3”, 225 lbs.), Floyd rates as a potential breakout candidate; but it appears the odds are against that happening. Consider him a solid WR4 with major upside in 2013.
WR Andre Roberts
(2012 WR Rank – #39, 7.3 FPts/G; #34 PPR, 11.5 FPts/G)
Last season, the fantasy football world penciled in first-round pick Michael Floyd to take over as Arizona’s starting wide receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but Roberts had other ideas. The Cardinals’ 2010 third-round pick continued to steadily improve, finishing the season with 64 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns, marking the third consecutive season that his production had increased in the major receiving categories. At 5’11” and 195 pounds, Roberts lacks Floyd’s upside, but his solid play in 2012 ensures that he will continue to have a large role in Arizona’s offense. The question is whether he can once again relegate Floyd to a secondary role. Given Floyd’s upside, we don’t like the chances of that happening. Even worse is that the Cardinals are experimenting with cornerback Patrick Peterson as a receiving option. While Roberts will continue to have a role in Arizona’s offense as a slot receiver, he is unlikely to approach the 114 targets he had last season. He rates as a low-end WR5.
TE Robert Housler
(2012 TE Rank – #38, 3.2 FPts/G; #31 PPR, 6.7 FPts/G)
Housler earned a spot in the Cardinals’ starting lineup during his second year in the league but failed to establish himself as a solid fantasy producer. The Cardinals’ 2011 third-round pick finished the season with just 45 receptions for 417 yards while failing to find the end zone in 15 games. The good news is that he caught an impressive 66.2 percent of his passes, a solid feat considering the play of the team’s quarterbacks in 2012. The bad news is that the offensive line remains a work in progress, which could contribute to Housler being used in a blocking role—and this guy named Larry Fitzgerald is a pretty darn good option in the red zone. However, with his solid speed and agility and with Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack now in Arizona and being led by Carson Palmer, Housler is a potential breakout candidate at TE. We like him better as an upper-tier TE2, but don’t feel too badly if you have to use him as a starter in 2013.