A Look Inside: 2021 Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals played like two very different teams in 2020. After starting the season strong, they, along with their star quarterback Kyler Murray, limped to the finish line. Missing the playoffs with a Week 17 loss to the John Wolford-led Los Angeles Rams

If 2021 is going to be any different the team will need to count on Murray to get back to what he did in the early part of 2020. Along with DeAndre Hopkins, the team has a pair of stars to build upon. The question which remains is: Do they have the coaching staff and supporting cast to make it finally happen in 2021?

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode with special guest Mike Wright from The Fantasy Footballers on Youtube below!

Quarterbacks

Kyler Murray is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. While this is undeniable, it is also not enough to make the Cardinals a true contender. Especially in a loaded NFC West. His 3,973 passing yards and 26 touchdowns from last year is not an incredible season. Even less so in an air raid offense predicated on the passing game. But with the speed he possesses, he more than makes up for this in fantasy. In many ways, he is like Lamar Jackson, only a better passer.

After rushing the ball 93 times for 544 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, Murray came back and proved that it was not a mirage. In 2020, he rushed for 819 yards and 11 touchdowns on 133 rushes.  The famous saying for running backs is “a reception is more valuable than a rush”. For quarterbacks, a rush is far more valuable than a pass, four times more valuable in most leagues. With this fact in mind, Murray is a clear top-five fantasy quarterback for the coming season. Not only does he run for a lot of yards, but he also scores touchdowns. He also avoids a lot of hits by getting out of bounds. Hits many players take while trying to scramble for more yards. He gets what he can and gets out of bounds. Pretty smart, if you ask me.

His weapons evolve every year. The team has let Kenyan Drake go but replaced him with James Conner. In the wide receiver’s room, they have added A.J. Green and rookie Rondale Moore to an already stout group. Green may not be what he used to be, but if he can even provide a little bit on the field, along with his locker room presence, he could be the key to taking the group to the next level. The main beneficiary will be Murray–and you if you draft him for your fantasy roster.

Running Backs

James Conner is a great story. At this point, that is all he is. We once thought he could take over for Le’Veon Bell, he is now lucky to share time with a back like Chase Edmonds. His health has not been great since entering the league and the Steelers decided they could not count on him to remain on the field. Opting instead to let him go and draft Najee Harris.

In 13 games last season, Connor had 169 carries for 721 yards and six touchdowns. While these numbers are not wonderful, they will be great for Arizona as he splits time with Edmonds. Connor is also just two years removed from having more than 50 receptions out of the backfield. His ability in the passing game will allow him to remain on the field on third downs when they need short yardage to convert. This will make him the de facto starter but not necessarily an RB1 for fantasy. We have gone down that road with him before and it has burnt us. Look to him if you need a low-end RB2. The same goes for his backfield mate, Chase Edmonds.

Cliff Kingsbury is always praising Chase Edmonds. He is wonderful. He is great. We love him. But they still do not want to give him the ball as the lead back. That is why they had David Johnson, then Kenyan Drake, and now, Conner. Despite their praise, they see him as nothing more than a committee back. And so should you.

Edmonds is not going to get the majority of touches, barring injury to Conner. It has not happened yet, and he is not getting any younger. We have seen in games what he can do. His game against the New York Giants comes to mind. He had more than 150 yards and three touchdowns. But just the next week, he was back on the bench. At best, he is a low-end RB2, and that where he is getting drafted. You had better hope he hits the ceiling hard if you draft him there. In a pass-first offense with another back ahead of him, the more likely scenario has him finishing as an RB3 and disappointing you at his draft price.

Wide Receivers

If this were 2017, this wide receiver’s group would be all world. Unfortunately, it is 2021 and some of the guys are at the end of the road. Larry Fitzgerald is one of my favorite players ever. Not just because we share a birthday but because of his amazing career. My favorite stat: he has more tackles in his career than he does passes dropped. Incredible. His time has passed, though. He may not even return to the team in 2021 and he does not have much fantasy value if he does. The same might also be said for their other aging star, A.J. Green.

After a stellar college career, Green entered the league with seven straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards. Since then, injuries have taken their toll on him. Now, he tries for a finish to his career where most people end up–The desert. Like Fitzgerald, he was great once. But also, like Fitzgerald, his best fantasy football days are behind him. He’s not much more than a dart throw in 2021.

Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore are the next two who need to break out. Kirk has the ability to get downfield and Moore looks to be the next in line at the slot position to take over for Fitzgerald. While Kirk is looking to be a WR3 for fantasy, we might be a year too early for Moore. He is great for a dynasty asset, but his year might just be 2022. Now for the main dish–DeAndre Hopkins.

He’s not the fastest receiver in the league. Not the biggest in the league. All he does is make contested catches and score touchdowns. He is truly one of the elite wide receivers and, as seen by the Hail Murray, has a real connection with Kyler. Not to mention the physicality to beat four players for a jump ball. Amazing.

In his first season with Arizona, Hopkins finished with 115 catches for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. He was the main target and despite every defense knowing this, they were still unable to stop him. With Kirk a year older and the talent of A.J. Green on the other side, defenses will have to relax some of their focus on him. This could allow Hopkins to do even better this season.

He loves the moves the team has made. Especially bringing in J.J. Watt to help the defense and the locker room. This happiness will translate on fantasy scoreboards as well. He is either the number one or two option at the wide receiver position for fantasy managers. He is still at the peak of his career and is playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Under a coach who wants to throw the ball around the field, you can’t get much better than this.

To get him you will have to forego a running back and grab him in the first round. Depending on where in the draft you sit, this might just be the correct play. If you have a top-five pick, stick with a running back. But if you are in the final half of the round, DeAndre Hopkins might just provide you more value than the comparable running back at the same draft slot. So do not be afraid of him.

Tight End

If I knew how to add the eyes emoticon, this is where it would go. They had Dan Arnold last season, but he is off to Carolina to try and resolve their own disastrous TE situation. This leaves, well, no one in Arizona. They do not use a tight end anyhow. I mean really, they could have George Kittle here and no one would know who he was buried in this offense. A good offense yes, but one which relies on the tight end position about as much as I rely on my eyes.