Despite a third consecutive season with an improved record, the undefined underachieved in 2021 based on their potential. QB Kyler Murray lost his running ways while limping home in the passing game. WR DeAndre Hopkins finished with the worst season of his career--and he’ll begin this season with a six-game suspension. The addition of WR Marquise Brown brings hope to the Cardinals’ offense. His ties to Murray should be a positive. RB James Conner turned into a scoring machine (18 touchdowns) with the look of a special player in the passing game. Arizona has questions on the defensive side of the ball. The first step toward success falls on Murray’s ability to use the whole field in the passing game instead of running for his life with a limited sliver of turf to make plays.
The Cardinals finished with competitive chances in rushing attempts (496) and passing plays (591). They finished about 350 yards shy of a top-two offense in the league. When at their best, Arizona wants to run the ball while being more explosive in the deep passing game.
Kyler Murray – click here for fantasy projections
Other Options: Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, Jarrett Guarantano
The running back opportunity improved by 49 touches last year, leading to 2,374 combined yards with 21 touchdowns and 89 catches. Their backs finished with regression in yards per rush (4.2) while getting a more significant share of scoring on the ground.
James Conner – click here for fantasy projections
In his fourth season with the Chiefs, Williams set career-highs in all areas. He finished with 1,010 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 47 catches. His best fantasy output came in three matchups (23.9, 29.4, 25.7 fantasy points). Even with growth, Williams still had eight games with fewer than 10.0 fantasy points scored in PPR formats.
Williams gained 664 combined yards with six touchdowns and 36 catches on 129 touches over his first three years with Kansas City. In his pro career, he has struggled to make big plays in the run game (3.8 yards per carry, with two of his 237 rushes gaining 20 yards).
Fantasy outlook: Based on last year’s stats, Williams should have the inside track to the backup running back role for the Cardinals. I don’t view him as an impact player with a high ceiling, but he could work his way to getting catches and some red-zone carries.
In his sophomore season at Arizona State, Benjamin looked to be an upside option at running back. He gained 1,905 combined yards with 18 touchdowns and 35 catches on 335 touches. However, in 2019, he had a plodding feel on early downs (253/1093/10 – 4.3 yards per rush) while maintaining his value in the passing game (42/347/2).
He doesn’t have an edge in speed (4.57 40-yard dash) or strength (12 reps in the bench press at the 2020 NFL combine). Benjamin does show more power than expected. His running style appears ragged in tight quarters, leading to some flat-footed motions trying to create misses, with the net results being minimal extra yards. This approach will lead to some hard hits and possible fumbles at the next level.
I sense a hot-and-cold type player with his best value coming in the passing game early in his career. Benjamin looks to have risk early in his career in pass protection.
Arizona didn’t give him a touch in his rookie season. Over nine games in 2021, Benjamin gained 160 combined yards with one touchdown and six catches.
Fantasy outlook: Benjamin's experience with the Cardinals may be enough for him to win the backup running back role in 2022. Arizona added multiple other options at running back, creating a waiver wire ADP (303) in the high-stakes market in late June. Only a player to follow until the coach-speak in Arizona gives some insight to the fantasy market over the summer.
Other Options: Keaontay Ingram, Jonathan Ward, Ronnie Rivers, T.J. Pledger
The Cardinals’ wide receivers have had a similar opportunity in targets (364, 365, 358) over the past three seasons. Despite a slight step back in catches (249) in 2021, they set three-year highs in receiving yards (3,063), yards per catch (12.30), and touchdowns (20) despite losing their top wideout for much of the year.
DeAndre Hopkins – click here for fantasy projections
The progression of Brown reached an exciting level in his third year with the Ravens. He had almost a 50% jump in targets (146 –100 in 2020), leading to career highs in catches (91) and receiving yards (1,008). Over his 46 games in the NFL, Brown has delivered 21 touchdowns with 36 catches of 20 yards or more. His only regression last season came in his yards per catch (11.1 – 13.0 over his first two years).
Brown gained over 100 yards in only three matchups (6/113/1, 9/125/2, 9/116) catching passes from Lamar Jackson. He had a floor of six catches in seven games. His only missed game came in Week 11 due to a thigh issue. Brown finished 21st in wide receiver scoring (227.3) in PPR leagues.
Fantasy outlook: The move to Arizona bodes well for Brown at two levels. He has previous experience with Murray at Oklahoma (57/1,095/7 and 75/1,318/10), while playing behind a true WR1 (Hopkins) invites more chances vs. weaker coverage. The Cardinals want to throw the ball, and Brown looks poised to add more length to his catches with a bump in scoring. Let’s set his bar at 100 receptions for 1,300 yards and 8-10 scores. He ranks 19th at wide receiver in early July in the NFFC with an ADP of 53.
At the very least, Green gave the Cardinals a big-play presence (15.7 yards per catch) on the outside in 2021. He has 32 games played over the past two years, but his production (47/523/2 and 54/848/3) has been below his peak seasons with the Bengals. Green gained over 100 yards in two contests (5/112 and 7/102) with two other playable games (5/67/1 and 5/79/1). Arizona gave him six or fewer targets in 12 of his 17 games (including the postseason).
Fantasy outlook: Green will start the season at age 34 while dropping another notch on the Cardinals’ wide receiver depth chart. Arizona will try to squeeze six productive games out of him until DeAndre Hopkins returns. He is more of a short-term fill-in than a fantasy target in drafts in 2022. Green has a waiver wire ADP (268) in the NFFC in early July.
Arizona took a shot on Moore in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft. Despite lacking size (5’7” and 180 pounds), he plays with strength and has exceptional value in his route-running and open-field ability. Moore brings vision and extreme quickness to the slot position. His style of play should be dangerous in the Cardinals’ passing game, as a small catch close to the line of scrimmage can lead to a difference-maker touchdown.
After a sensational first season (114/1,258/12 plus 21 rushes for 213 yards and two scores) at Purdue, Moore only saw the field for seven games in 2019 (29/387/2) and 2020 (35/270). His low output over this span still came to 9.1 catches for 94 yards per game.
In his rookie season with Arizona, Moore almost had a running back feel in the passing game based on his yards per catch (8.1). He finished with 54 catches for 435 yards and one score on 64 targets over 14 games. Moore jumped out of the gate in 2021 with two productive showings (4/68 and 7/114/1). Over the following 11 matchups, he struggled to make plays in space (41/252/0 – 6.1 yards per catch) while averaging only 3.7 targets. Moore missed the final three games with an ankle issue.
Fantasy outlook: Moore brings a chain-mover skill set while posting an elite catch rate (84.4) in his rookie season. He underachieved expectations last year, but his ADP (123) in the high-stakes market in early July falls in about the same area as 2021. His next step points to 70 catches for 800 yards with a handful of scores.
Other Options: Antonio Wesley, Greg Dortch, Andy Isabella
The addition of Zach Ertz after six games helped the Cardinals post three-year highs in catches (76), receiving yards (777) and targets (108). Arizona only has 13 touchdowns from its tight ends over the past three seasons, with some regression in yards per catch (10.22) in 2021.
Over his nine seasons in the NFL, Ertz has been a top-tier tight end six times, highlighted by 2018 (116/1,163/8 on 156 targets). However, he battled injuries in 2020, leading to short production (36/335/1). Last season he finished fifth in tight end scoring (180.7 fantasy points) in PPR leagues, with most of the damage coming with the Cardinals (56/574/3). Ertz had a minimum of six catches in six of his final seven starts in Arizona while delivering one impact game (8/88/2).
Fantasy outlook: In the NFFC in early July, Ertz has an ADP of 101 while ranking ninth. He’ll turn 32 in November, so his ceiling looks to be behind him. A fantasy drafter can expect a steady player with 80-catch upside, about 800 yards and only a handful of scores.
Last year, McBride finished with 90 catches for 1,121 yards on 134 targets in college, but he only scored one touchdown. Over the previous two seasons, over 16 combined games, McBride had 67 catches for 890 yards and eight scores on 88 targets (76.1% catch rate). His 2021 season started with three active games (13/116, 8/114/1, 9/109) while having a floor of six catches in 11 of his 12 starts.
Despite needing some work on his blocking techniques, McBride has the feel of a power tight end with good hands. He’ll work the short areas of the field, but his overall speed limits his ceiling in the deep passing game. McBride can make plays with his feet in space, and his strength does create some missed tackles. His route running is in the right place to start his NFL career.
Fantasy outlook: His foundation skill set gives him three-down ability while needing to prove he can handle stronger defenders at the next level. I expect him to develop as the 2022 season moves on, giving potential top 12 tight end fantasy value down the road.
Other Options: Maxx Williams, Stephen Anderson, David Wells
In his first season with Arizona, Prater made 30 of his 37 field-goal tries with two misses in his 49 extra-point tries. He continues to be a top kicker from 50 yards or more (7-for-10) with excellent success in this area over the past seven seasons (42-for-57).
Fantasy outlook: Prater ranks ninth at kicker in the NFFC. He plays for a team that should create plenty of scoring chances, making him a foundation kicker in most weeks.
Arizona brought in Kliff Kingsbury as the head coach in 2019, leading to a 24-24-1 record after three seasons. Their offense scored 449 points (11th) while ranking eighth in yards gained. Their scoring improved over each of the past three years.
Over the previous six seasons, Kingsbury was the head coach for Texas Tech. His teams went 35-40 while never having a winning season in conference play. He is a former NFL and CFL player. His forte comes on the offensive side of the ball. The Cardinals want to throw the ball, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins (115/1,407/6) raised the passing bar while also setting up a better structure for their wide receivers.
The Cardinals still don’t have an offensive coordinator, leaving the role of play calling to their head coach. Kingsbury helped Patrick Mahomes reach an elite level while also working with Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel and Baker Mayfield.
Vance Joseph returns as the defensive coordinator after losing the Broncos' head coaching job in 2018. Joseph went 11-21 in two seasons with Denver. In 2016, Joseph held the defensive coordinator job for the Dolphins. He has 17 seasons of experience in the NFL.
Arizona bumped to 11th in yards allowed by their defense with the same ranking in points allowed (366).
The Cardinals lost five top players (WR Christian Kirk, LB Chandler Jones, RB Chase Edmonds, LB Jordan Hicks and DE Jordan Phillips) in the offseason. Those players signed elsewhere for a combined $150 million. Arizona didn’t add any top players in free agency in the offseason.
Arizona didn’t have a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL draft. They added TE Trey McBride in the second round, followed by pair of defenders (DE Cameron Thomas and DE Myjai Sanders) in the third. The Cardinals' next opportunity to improve their team came in the sixth round (RB Keaontay Ingram and G Lecitus Smith). With a trio of picks in the seventh, Arizona invested in DB Christian Matthew, LB Jesse Luketa and G Marquis Hayes.
The Cardinals slipped to 10th in rushing yards (2,076) with 23 touchdowns and 10 runs over 20 yards. They averaged only 4.2 yards per carry with 29.2 attempts per game.
Arizona jumped to eighth in passing yards (4,102) with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They gained 7.8 yards per pass attempt with only 62 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks.
After his best season in 2020, LT D.J. Humphries faded to a league-average player in 2021. At different times in his career, he has been an asset in both run and pass blocking. RT Kelvin Beachum remains a liability in the run game while having a long history of handling his responsibilities in pass protection. C Rodney Hudson regressed in back-to-back years after dominating for multiple seasons with the Chiefs and Raiders. The guard position isn’t an area of strength.
This offensive line must improve for the Cardinals to have continued growth offensively. This group looks to be on a path to be about leagues average.
Arizona inched to 20th in rushing yards allowed (1,952 yards) while allowing 10 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained only 4.6 yards per rush, with 25.1 runs per game.
The Cardinals climbed to seventh in passing yards allowed (3,645) with 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Their defense delivered 41 sacks while quarterbacks gained 6.9 yards per pass attempt.
Their pass rush must replace the loss of LB Chandler Jones, and LB Markus Golden (11.0 sacks) has never played well in back-to-back seasons. LB Isaiah Simmons showed growth in his second season with Arizona after getting selected in the first round in 2020. However, his run defense and pass coverage fell short of winning expectations. The Cardinals added two other talented options (Zaven Collins and Myjai Sanders) at linebacker over the last two drafts.
Their secondary has strength at safety. CB Byron Murphy likes to keep receivers in front of him, leading to short yards per catch but some damage in touchdowns. The other cornerback slot is a position of concern.
Arizona was weakness on the defensive line even with the aging J.J. Watt expected to be ready for Week 1. He only has 10 sacks over his last 31 starts, and he will start the year at age 33.
The defense already had issues stopping the run. I see a step back in play vs. the pass, leading to a second-tier fantasy option with only matchup value.
2022 FANTASY OUTLOOKS
AFC East: Bills | Dolphins | Patriots | Jets
AFC North: Ravens | Bengals | Browns | Steelers
AFC South: Texans | Colts | Jaguars | Titans
AFC West: Broncos | Chiefs | Raiders | Chargers
NFC East: Cowboys | Giants | Eagles | Commanders
NFC North: Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South: Falcons | Panthers | Saints | Buccaneers
NFC West: Cardinals | Rams | 49ers | Seahawks