Apr 5, 2013
It is amazing how quickly fantasy fortunes can change for those in keeper or dynasty leagues. Just a few days ago, those who owned wideout Larry Fitzgerald really did not know what they had in the future Hall of Famer, which was a sad statement because he is still in his prime and is, you know, a future Hall of Famer.
I’m not saying his new QB Carson Palmer is unquestionably a savior, but Palmer landing in Arizona is pretty news for this offense. Yes, the OL is a major concern, but let’s keep in mind it was pretty bad in Oakland, too, and Palmer managed to throw for over 4000 yards with a lesser receiving corps and a crappy running game.
I particularly like the fit with Bruce Arians, who is as proven an offensive coordinator as there is in the league. Arians has had particular success with big, strong-armed QBs like Palmer in Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Palmer doesn’t move as well as those two, but he’s not a total statue in the pocket, either. And I LOVED what Arians did last year with Reggie Wayne, particularly how he moved him around to find good matchups. I said on the radio last summer that Wayne could catch 100 balls, but I was still a little surprised that he actually did it (106). Luck was obviously quite good, but Wayne in 2012 was brilliant with Arians pulling the strings, and there’s reason to believe Fitzgerald can quickly turn his shaky fantasy status around with Arians and Palmer in the fold. I also think it’s a case of addition by subtraction with Ken Whisenhunt out of Arizona. He’s a good coach who got them to the Super Bowl, but let’s be honest: Whisenhunt is not exactly known as a creative or particularly effective offensive guy, and it was Kurt Warner and OC Todd Haley who should have been given the most credit for the team’s success early in Wiz’s career in the desert.
You can certainly make some pretty strong arguments against Palmer this year, but you can say that about roughly two-thirds of the players drafted in fantasy football. Overall, Palmer’s numbers were merely solid last year, but for fantasy purposes, I usually look at completion percentage and yards per attempt, and Palmer’s in 2012 (61.1 and 7.1, respectively) were, again, solid. Palmer back in 2010 looked like a player who might be slipping quickly, but I felt he has thrown the ball well the last two years; it’s come out of his hand well and with good velocity. He has fallen into the trap of trying to do too much, which tends to lead to some bad decisions, but that might not be a huge problem with a stud like Fitzgerald and a great offensive coach like Arians supporting him.
The Raider receiving corps last year, while talented on paper, was shaky. Denarius Moore is a player I like a lot, and we’ve pushed him pretty hard, but he lost his way last year. Clearly, he was not on the same page as Palmer, and most disconcerting was how that was case as the season wore on. I don’t know the real story there, but Palmer has been a big Moore supporter, so I have to assume most of the blame should go to the young wideout, and not the veteran QB. Again, I know the OL is a problem, but if they can give him a semblance of protection (keep in mind former #1 pick Levi Brown will be back this year at LT, and he missed all of 2012), there is really nice potential with this passing game, much like there was in Indy last year with Arians running the offense. It could very well be a complete passing game with last year’s #1 pick Michael Floyd – who Arians told me at the combine he thinks is a rising star – and Andre Roberts. This looks perfect because Roberts is probably best cast as a slot receiver, yet his versatility and production last year (64/759/5) was excellent, considering the circumstances. And the icing on the cake could be TE Rob Housler. We’ve pushed Housler pretty hard the last two years as a great sleeper candidate, almost entirely because of his high-end speed and athleticism. He caught a sneaky 45 passes last year, but his YPC average of 9.3 was bad (he tied fossil Dallas Clark and was around 45th at the position among all TEs with 20 or more grabs last year). He also has yet to score a TD in the NFL. That’s disconcerting, but I specifically remember Kevin Kolb missing him running wide-ass open down the seam for two potential scores in 2011, and I’m pretty sure Kolb (or someone else) missed him on one in 2012. Granted, a lot of Palmer’s production with TE Brandon Myers last year was in garbage time, but Palmer is clearly a big upgrade at QB, and in his “magical” third season, Housler could be poised for a coming out party. The Cardinal defense is top-12 in the league, so Palmer might not pad his stats with GTP this year, but let’s not forget that Arians loves to throw the ball. This guy’s never seen a passing play he didn’t like. I can still see Palmer throwing it about 550 times this year, and I see his completion percentage sticking in the 61-62% range, with 63-64 a possibility. Palmer back in 2011 actually averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, so I can see him bumping his 2012 number of 7.1 up to about 7.5, which would give him 4,125 yards. New RB Rashard Mendenhall isn’t a great goal line back, so when they are in tight, I can see them looking to throw plenty, so 25 TDs should be attainable for Palmer, and there’s upside if – all goes perfectly well for him – to hit 30 in this passing league. 25 TDs with that yardage would give Palmer about 310-315 fantasy points (I’m giving him 10 points for rushing, and he has scored 1 TD on the ground the last two years). Back in 2005, that would have netted Palmer a top-3 finish at QB, but things have changed considerably in the NFL and in fantasy. These days, around 300 points is usually a top-12-14 finish, which is around where he finished in 2012.
But unlike 2011 and 2012 in Oakland, there’s upside for more in Arizona with what could be a surprisingly-strong receiving corps. The backfield isn’t exactly set, but there’s talent here for sure with Mendenhall and Ryan Williams on the roster, and William Powell showed some promise last year as a changeup and potential 3rd down back (he had a 6-catch game last year). Palmer won’t command a lot of respect in fantasy drafts, so he should be a nice choice as a backup due to value and potential. As for Fitzgerald, he’s obviously back in the conversation as a top-5 wideout. Although the Cards have other options, he’s still one of the few true #1 WRs – a guy Arians will gameplan to get the ball to a TON, and he will do so EVERY WEEK.
Again, it’s easy to find warts with almost any player who’ll be taken outside of the top-25 in a typical fantasy draft. Palmer will be 34 in December, the shabby OL is a problem, and this is a very tough division, one with three good secondaries. But when I add up and compare the positives and negatives, I really like Palmer in Arizona, and with Arians. The cavalry has arrived finally for Fitzgerald, and with a true pro at QB who can actually play, we should see significant development from their young receivers, specifically Floyd and Housler.
Projected 2013 rankings:
Carson Palmer – 13-15 at QB
Larry Fitzgerald – 6-10 at WR
Michael Floyd – 45-50 at WR
Rob Housler – 20-25 at TE