QB Carson Palmer
(2013 QB Rank—#17, 13.1 FPts/G)
He’s getting a little long in the tooth as he heads into his 12th NFL season, but Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer may still have some fantasy relevance left in his arm. In 2013, Palmer threw for a career-high 4,274 yards, which was certainly nice to see from a fantasy standpoint. One glaring problem still remains in his game, though. After all these years, Palmer still throws too many passes to players wearing opposite-colored jerseys. Palmer’s career-high in yardage was offset by a career-high in interceptions (22). In fact, only Eli Manning (27) threw more picks than Palmer. While there is still reason to believe that Palmer will have games where he lights up the fantasy scoreboard – especially considering the duo of talented, big-bodied wide receivers that he has to throw to – the truth is that Palmer will probably never be a consistent fantasy starter again. He will play six in-division games against arguably the toughest defensive division in the league and that will almost certainly mean a high enough rate of interceptions that he should go off the board as a low-end QB2 or even potentially remain undrafted in most leagues.
RB Andre Ellington
(2013 RB Rank—#24, 7.2 FPts/G)
As the sole owner of the starting running back spot in Arizona after the offseason retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Ellington has suddenly become one of the most talked-about names in all of fantasy football. Ellington’s impressive 5.5 yards per attempt in 2013 were an impressive number, especially considering that it was his rookie season. There’s plenty to like about Ellington’s game, which many have compared to the likes of C.J. Spiller and even LeSean McCoy. He’s a shifty back with big play potential, as evidenced by his eight rushes of 20+ yards. But his biggest asset for fantasy owners may be in that he could be one of the most utilized pass-catchers out of the backfield in the entire league this season. His 39 receptions in 2013 don’t appear to be extraordinary on the surface, but when you consider that he only touched the ball 157 times, you can begin to see how often he was catching passes as opposed to being used as a pure runner while being stuck behind Mendenhall on the depth chart for much of the season. It has been a long time since another player has rivaled Larry Fitzgerald for the highest-drafted fantasy player on the Arizona roster, but as Ellington continues to gain hype, he continues to rise up the rankings, creeping ever closer to the veteran receiver on overall ADP rankings. Buyer beware that Ellington has never taken over 250 total touches in his professional or college career, but that could be a good thing as his body does not have the wear and tear that many other backs do. Expect weeks of frustration from Ellington, but also weeks where he is a big-time points producer. Draft him as a mid-level RB2 and hope that he can stay healthy, because that may be the only thing that prevents him from finishing as a top-12 fantasy back in 2014.
RB Stepfan Taylor
(2013 RB Rank—#101, 0.7 FPts/G)
Running back Stepfan Taylor will join Andre Ellington as a second-year “veteran,” but also as the only other running back on the Arizona roster who will likely have any fantasy relevancy in the 2014 season. While Ellington’s 5.5 yards per carry average has many fantasy owners salivating, Taylor’s 3.2 yards per carry are not nearly as sexy. Granted, his numbers were accumulated on just 32 touches, but fewer touches typically translate to higher YPC averages for most tailbacks, due to their relative lack of damage taken throughout the season. So, there is a little bit of a concern here that Taylor was so far behind Ellington in terms of production when he touched the ball. Still, Taylor does have the pedigree of being a quality ball carrier. He was Stanford’s all-time leading rusher and does possess the talent to at least be a quality player. The real question for Taylor is how much playing time he is going to see if Ellington does stay healthy this season. Will the Cardinals opt to give him enough touches to be fantasy relevant with Ellington still playing, or will Taylor simply be relegated to a handcuff role? Truthfully, we don’t know at this point. The fact that Ellington is such a good pass-catcher would indicate that he will almost certainly be the team’s primary third down back, leaving Taylor more likely to be utilized for a drive or two per game to keep Ellington fresh. Taylor is likely to be undrafted in most leagues, but keep an eye on this situation early in the year. If this becomes a 50/50 or even a 60/40 split, Taylor could be a player to snag early in the year from the waiver wire.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
(2013 WR Rank—#16, 9.1 FPts/G)
It seems like the years have flown by, but Larry Fitzgerald is now entering his 11th NFL season and he has been considered elite despite playing for one of the lowliest franchises in the league with practically no quarterbacks of value for the majority of the majority of his career. Fitzgerald’s skills have never been in question, his determination has never been in question. That’s why he has remained one of the highest-drafted fantasy receivers every season despite the fact that he really hasn’t performed up to that level in at least three of his past four seasons. In 2013, Fitzgerald finally got back to double-digit touchdowns (10) for the first time since 2009, but failed to crack 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was very clearly Palmer’s favorite target, but defenses were also in tune with that information and were often able to hold him in check. Fitzgerald broke through for 100 yards just twice in 2013 (both times against San Francisco) but was held to fewer than 40 yards on four occasions. Although he is still good enough to be a top-10 fantasy receiver, with Michael Floyd as well as the opposing defenses keyed in, Fitzgerald will struggle to eclipse the 10 touchdowns he had a season ago. One thousand yards is still a definite possibility, but don’t be surprised if he fails to live up to that expectation again this season. Be hesitant to take Fitzgerald as a WR1 this season, but be happy and confident if you’re able to snag him as a WR2.
WR Michael Floyd
(2013 WR Rank—#22, 8.0 FPts/G)
It has been quite some time since a quality receiving option has lined up opposite Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, but the duo of Fitzgerald and third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd have many remembering the old days of Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Floyd is a 6’2″, 220 lb beast who possesses truly elite skills at the wide receiver position. While it took him a year to really get things going, he really seemed to catch on in the second half of the 2014 season when he averaged over 82 yards per game over the final seven games of the season. If he were able to stay on this pace, Floyd would certainly overtake Fitzgerald as the top fantasy target in the Arizona passing game, which may happen anyway due to his youth and the fact that he sees significantly less defensive attention than Fitzgerald. With Floyd going off the board around 28th at wide receiver, the upside is gigantic here. Some may point to Floyd’s five touchdowns in 2013 as being a disappointing part of his game, but remember that he scored a total of 21 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons at Notre Dame. The skills are there. He just needs more opportunities.
TE Troy Niklas
(2013 TE Rank—N/A)
The tight end position in Arizona is an absolute mess heading into 2014. Incumbent tight end Robert Housler had a ton of hype coming into 2013 as many believed that he might join Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as the third member of an impressive trio of pass-catchers for the Cardinals, but that certainly did not happen. Housler battled the injury bug early in the season, but still failed to impress even when he finally was healthy, with only two games over 60 yards receiving and scored only one touchdown on the year. That opened the door for the Cardinals to look elsewhere at the position, adding veterans John Carlson and Jake Ballard, both of whom have reportedly overtaken Housler on the depth chart. But the player to watch, if you want fantasy upside in this crowded group of awfulness, is rookie Troy Niklas. The Cardinals saw fit to draft Niklas in the second round of the NFL draft, leading most to believe that they believe he will be the tight end of the future. The big question for fantasy purposes is whether he will have an opportunity to play right away. The question marks at this position make it irresponsible for fantasy owners to draft any of these players, but Niklas is certainly the player who gives us the most hope for fantasy relevance.