What are the initial reactions after the ‘Red Sea’ Heist?
The Cardinals made the single biggest splash of the 2020 offseason by pulling off a trade that had many around the league wondering if general manager Steve Keim wore a mask in a move that was nothing short of a high stakes robbery. Arizona stole superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Houston Texans for an overpaid, injury-prone running back in David Johnson and a pair of draft picks (a second-rounder in 2020 and fourth-rounder in 2021). Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr believes the Texans made a colossal mistake trading the star wideout that leaves a gaping hole in Houston’s offense.
Sports Illustrated's Cardinals Maven Howard Balzer summed it up better than anyone. In response to Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s defense of the trade in which he said, “any decision that’s made is made with the team in mind. Capital T, Capital E, Capital A, Capital M in mind"—Balzer wittingly replied “Texans fans are surely happy that O’Brien can spell. Cardinals fans would likely respond with Capital S. T. E. A. L.”
What are the oddsmakers saying?
William Hill, America’s largest sports book operator, recently released its opening odds on which player will bring home the NFL MVP award next season. At 25/1, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is listed tied with Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers for eighth among the top betting options. The field consists of quarterbacks in the first 10 betting options before New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley appears at No. 11 at odds of 30/1.
Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVI MVP Patrick Mahomes tops the list at +350 followed by Baltimore’s reigning regular season MVP Lamar Jackson at odds of 6/1. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (8/1), Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (14/1) and new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (16/1) round out the top five overall betting choices.
Can Murray take a sizable leap in Year 2 in the desert?
Murray, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, completed 64.4% of his passes, throwing for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdown passes in his rookie season with the Cardinals. He also added 544 yards on the ground with four touchdowns, joining Cam Newton as the only rookie signal-callers in NFL history in the 3,500/500 club on his way to earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
In 2018, he was picked No. 9 overall in the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics, and for football fans it's a good thing he passed on a life on the baseball diamond.
Last year's fantasy football overall QB8 was already set for a climb up my model’s projections with one year of experience in Kliff Kingsbury’s dynamic spread offense. And now he adds arguably the best wideout in the NFL, not named Michael Thomas, in Hopkins. Over the past five seasons, Hopkins has averaged 101 receptions, 1,318 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Statistically alone, that is a career year for an NFL wide receiver, but for Hopkins it’s his five-year average. Hopkins will immediately help the Cardinals stretch the field, threatening the back end of opposing defenses while easily increasing the overall passing of Murray beyond the 4,000 passing yard mark with the aging but extremely reliable Larry Fitzgerald in the slot. Christian Kirk has shown flashes of potential and with a mix of young wideouts in Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, the potential is limitless.
Murray’s fantasy outlook in 2020
Obviously my model has a top tier that consists of two names when it comes to NFL quarterbacks in fantasy football in 2020: Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Prior to the draft, as well as any further transactions or trades, my projections have Murray as the overall QB4 behind both the aforementioned NFL MVPs of the past two seasons and Dallas’ Dak Prescott. I have the potentially dangerous Murray rated higher than Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan who round out my current top-seven signal callers.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury's pass-heavy spread offense leans heavily on three- and four-receiver sets. With two or three other receivers on the field that will consist of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Fitzgerald, Hopkins will face the least amount of double-teams he has encountered in his career. Hopkins' 632 receptions since 2013 ranks third in the NFL, just 18 more than Fitzgerald's 614. Over the past three seasons, Hopkins leads the league in touchdown receptions (31) and has the second-most catches (632) in his first seven seasons in NFL history.
What lies ahead in 2020?
The NFC representative in five of the last eight Super Bowls have come from the NFC West. Hopkins now joins a potentially lethal attack that almost assuredly will win more than the five games it did last season.
HOME: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions
AWAY: Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks
Taking a deeper dive, bettors can easily uncover that the Cardinals lost two games by a field goal last season, three others by a touchdown or less, and had a tie against Detroit. That's six potential wins that bettors can project as potentially attainable in Kingsbury's second year, if Murray takes the expected leap with all the weapons at his disposal. Adding Hopkins and having a solid running attack led by running back Kenyan Drake could be the difference between winning and losing those close games.
The oddsmakers at William Hill are projecting improvement as they currently list the Cardinals with a regular season win total of 6.5, juiced moderately (-140) to the over.
According to SI Cardinals Maven Mason Kern, “the moves the Arizona Cardinals have made in the offseason have been with the goal of reducing the necessity of focusing on one position for their No. 8 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.” With Hopkins now part of the roster, Mason believes Arizona will target either one of the top offensive line prospects or perhaps the linebacker position should Clemson star Isaiah Simmons fall into their laps.
Murray made strides during his rookie season and there's sufficient data to conclude that Hopkins' arrival will lead to a sizable second-year leap. A case can be made that the skill-position talent that now surrounds Murray on offense is as good as any team in the NFL. With the addition of Hopkins, many believe the club will use the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on one of the top tackle prospects, looking to solidify the protection in front of their franchise quarterback.
Although I respect the oddsmakers at William Hill, I completely disagree with Murray’s odds of winning the award being behind Deshaun Watson, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. As we have previously highlighted the award has clearly become the “Most Valuable Quarterback” award. With that in mind and the potential of this offense being taken to another level following Hopkins’ arrival, I will invest in a ticket on Murray (25/1) as my fall back to my larger play previously made on Patrick Mahomes at odds of +350.
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