Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
Anyone who doubts that football is the ultimate team sport, the sport where each individual's success rests most squarely on his teammates, might want to have a chat with Larry Fitzgerald. There's no denying that Fitzgerald has been one of the most talented, hardest-working receivers since his first day in the league. Nearly every year, that has manifested itself in huge numbers. In his four seasons with Kurt Warner as his primary quarterback, Fitz averaged 99 receptions for 1,335 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's failed to his the 1,000-yard mark just twice in his career: once with Matt Leinart at the helm back in 2006, then again during the Cardinals' dreadful 2012 season.
Quantifying just how bad Arizona's quarterbacks were last year is actually kind of fun, unless you're a Cardinals fan or you owned Fitzgerald last season. The Cardinals' quarterback situation last season -- the trio of John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley -- can be personified by the hydra of Greek mythology, which had multiple heads, but lacked the ability to throw. Kolb led the team with 6.4 yards per attempt, and in 10 starts, Skelton and Lindley combined for two touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Perhaps most damning, Fitzgerald ranked as the No. 43 receiver in non-PPR, standard-scoring leagues last year thanks to those quarterbacks. Before 2012, Fitzgerald caught at least 50 percent of his targets every year of his career, and was north of 60 percent every year from 2005 through 2009. He caught just 45.5 percent of them last year. To be fair, the quarterbacks didn't get any help from an offensive line that was quite possibly the worst in the NFL. With breakdowns along the line and in the backfield, Fitz was a non-factor in fantasy leagues.
Luckily for Fitzgerald's sanity, the Cardinals made a major change under center, bringing in Carson Palmer this offseason. He may not be the Palmer who helped usher in the NFL's pass-first era with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati, but Palmer still managed 4,018 yards, 7.1 YPA and 22 touchdowns against 14 interceptions with a less-than-inspiring group of receivers at his disposal in Oakland last year.
Palmer's arrival in the desert vaults Fitz right back among the elite at the wide receiver position. He's the sixth receiver on my board behind Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones. And Notre Dame product and second-year man Michael Floyd, the Cardinals' No. 2 receiver, is one of my favorite breakout candidates at the position.
|Arizona Cardinals' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Cardinals' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The NFC West features two of the best defenses in the league in the 49ers and Seahawks. While that will present the Cardinals with a few tough games, they also draw the NFC South, which was likely the worst defensive division from top to bottom last season. They could have one of the weakest playoff schedules until championship week with the Rams Week 14 and Titans Week 15. Overall, the NFC South, AFC South, Lions and Eagles more than counterbalance four games (only two of which during the fantasy regular season) against the Niners and Seahawks.
QB: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley
RB: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Ryan Swope
TE: Rob Housler, Jeff King, D.C. Jefferson
K: Jay Feely
|Arizona Cardinals' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Cardinals were a sneakily decent fantasy defense last year. Their 22 interceptions were the second most in the league and their 38 sacks tied for 11th. The unit is lead by cornerback Patrick Peterson, defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Matt Shaughnessy, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and linebacker Karlos Dansby.
They're making a major change this year, as they'll shift from a normal 3-4 defense to a one-gap 3-4 set. This puts equal responsibility on the linemen and linebackers to cover the gaps, as opposed to the typical 3-4, in which the linemen are asked to swallow up blockers to allow the linebackers to fly around. The team drafted nose tackle Dan Williams, who more fits the mold of a nose in a two-gap system, but new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is putting his stamp on this defense.
Those of you in IDP leagues will want to be aware of all six players mentioned above, especially Peterson. And if you're in a league that uses defense and special teams, bump the Cardinals up a few notches, thanks to Peterson's freakish ability as a punt returner.