Andre Ellington rushed for 652 yards on 118 attempts and caught 39 passes for 371 yards in 2013.
Jed Jacobsohn/SI

Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Arizona Cardinals team preview

By Michael Beller
July 14, 2014

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Bruce Arians frustrated fantasy owners to no end last season with the following breakdown. See if you can guess what it is.

1 17
6 17
6 10
7 15
11 19
12 11
5 13
13 14
11 15
12 14
13 17
14 21
17 21
12 21

The numbers in the left column represent Andre Ellington’s touches, while those in the right are Rashard Mendenhall’s, in the 14 games in which both running backs played last year. They each missed a game, with Mendenhall sitting out Arizona’s Week 8 clash with Atlanta. Ellington got a season-high 17 touches in that contest, running for 154 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. It was his best game of the year, and a hint of what he can do when he is the primary back. Of course, when Mendenhall returned the following week, he continued to get more touches than the electric rookie.

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Luckily for fantasy owners and Cardinals fans alike, Arians looks set to unleash Ellington this season. Mendenhall retired in the offseason, and the only other backs in Arizona who could command any carries are Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor. When Arians said in May that Ellington would receive 25-to-30 touches per game, it was certainly with a wink and a nod at the fantasy community. That, of course, is an unrealistic range. As a comparison, Adrian Peterson’s career high in touches is 430, which nets out to 26.9 per game. However, with Ellington undoubtedly the lead dog in Arizona, he should get somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 touches per game, which should be plenty to make him a strong RB2.

Few players in the league are as explosive as the second-year man out of Clemson. He had eight carries of at least 20 yards last year, which tied him with six other running backs for third in the league. However, Ellington also had just 118 carries, meaning 6.8 percent of them went for at least 20 yards. Of the eight other players with a minimum eight runs of 20-plus yards (Alfred Moris, Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller and Chris Ivory), Ivory’s 182 carries were the next fewest. What’s more, Ellington’s 5.5 yards per carry was the highest average in the league. All told, Ellington gained 1,023 yards on 157 touches last season, meaning that whenever he got the ball in his hands, he picked up 6.5 yards, on average. He’s a living, breathing, second-and-short machine. Extrapolate that out to the 250-280 touches he’s likely to get this year, and you’re looking at a floor of about 1,400 yards from scrimmage.

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Pro Football Focus graded the Cardinals’ offensive line as the seventh-worst run-blocking unit in the league last year, but it was also ravaged by injury. Guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, missed the entire season after breaking his left fibula in Arizona’s third preseason game. He’s back and fully healthy, and the team signed Jared Veldheer away from Oakland to join him on the left side of the line. With an improving line and a legitimate passing game featuring Carson Palmer and two downfield threats in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, Ellington will turn a nice profit this year.

Most overvalued player

Arizona Defense – We’ll get more into the merits of the defense later on in the column. This isn’t a knock on the unit, but rather a rejection of its ADP. Put simply, very rarely is it advisable to invest highly in a defense that you’re counting on to start every single week. That’s what you’ll have to do to get the Cardinals. In a league driven by offense, it’s a much savvier play to ride the defense carousel and target the league’s doormat offenses.

Most undervalued player

Michael Floyd, WR – Floyd currently carries a consensus ranking just inside the WR2 class in a 12-team league. While he’s not a WR1, he is definitely worthy of being considered as a top-20 receiver. Floyd took a step forward last year, catching 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound third-year player out of Notre Dame should be a major weapon in the red zone, though he caught just six of his 14 red-zone targets for two scores last year. As Floyd’s role in the passing game continues to nibble away at Larry Fitzgerald’s, though, those numbers are likely to increase. Let’s go ahead and assume, for the sake of conversation, that the Cardinals produce the same 70 red-zone pass attempts that they did last year. If Floyd can wrest away half of the 10 additional Fitzgerald got and improve his efficiency just a touch, he should approach double-digit touchdowns.

Depth chart

QB: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley
RB: Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Ted Ginn, Teddy Williams
TE: Rob Housler, Troy Niklas

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points allowed
NFL rank 6 14 1 7
  vs. QB vs. RB vs. WR vs. TE
Fantasy rank 21 1 5 32

It’s easy to fly under the radar a bit defensively when you’re in a division with the Seahawks and 49ers, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals did last year. From a fantasy standpoint, though, they were better than both of their NFC West rivals, narrowly edging Seattle while scoring nearly one more fantasy point per game than San Francisco. The Cardinals were good at pretty much everything on the defensive side of the ball last year, racking up 47 sacks, 30 takeaways and five touchdowns.

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Unfortunately, repeating last year’s success will be a tall task after losing two of last year’s major contributors. First, Karlos Dansby left to sign a new deal with the Browns. The team was dealt a further blow when it was announced that the underrated Daryl Washington would miss at least a season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. That’s two of the starters from what was a very good linebacker group a season ago. The team will try to offset that loss by giving a larger role to Kevin Minter, who was a second-round pick last year but didn’t see much time given the depth of the linebackers, and plugging in long-time Steeler Larry Foote, whom they signed during the offseason.

The strength of this unit is now up front and in the back. Calais Campbell, Dan Williams and Darnell Dockett make a solid trio on the line. John Abraham notched 11.5 sacks as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, and will have to be the leader of the new-look linebacker corps. The defense’s best playmakers are in the secondary, highlighted by Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals used the 27th overall pick in the draft to select strong safety Deone Bucannon out of Washington State, and he should start right away. They also signed Antonio Cromartie and have Tyrann Mathieu lurking, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Arizona had the third-best pass coverage last year. This should once again be one of the best secondaries in the league.

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