Five Questions Heading into Arizona Cardinals Training Camp
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for us football diehards. Slowly but surely, we’ve slogged through the majority of another lengthy NFL offseason. From here on out, things will only ramp up more and more.
The opening ceremonies of the 2017 season are upon us: training camps. Although a large chunk of the news that comes out of these camps is just noise focused on attracting clicks, there are certainly some possible takeaways that can be found. Here are the five that I’ve identified at the start of the Arizona Cardinals’ camp.
1. Is John Brown Back?
When reviewing the Cardinals 2017 season in late February / early March 2018, John Brown’s production is sure to correlate to the team’s success. As recent as 2015, the Cardinals offense was a juggernaut. It boasted a bevy of talented receivers and a quarterback in the midst of a career year. Fast forward to 2017, and that 2015 squad feels like it’s a thing of the far past. Michael Floyd hit some legal trouble (and lost his job for it). Both Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer are battling father time. That leaves John Brown as the player the Cardinals need to shoulder the receiving load.
The question, however, is whether Brown is physically up for the task. The talent of the man they call Smokey isn’t an issue. However, his laundry list of 2016 injuries certainly is. That list includes a concussion, a sickle-cell trait, and a cyst on his spine–not ideal. A healthy Brown would accrue well over 1000 yards in a season that could go down as a major bounce back for the NFC-championship hung over Red Birds, while a Brown still battling his 2016 demons might signal that it’s time to replace some pieces and begin a new era in Arizona. Barely going in the top 100 players in redraft PPR formats, Brown is more than worth a stab.
2. Is Carson Palmer Too Deep Into His Decline?
Of course, even if John Brown is back to 100 percent, his upside would surely be capped if Carson Palmer cannot the reverse the backward trend that began in 2016. While his pass attempts significantly increased (from 540 to 600) last season, his efficiency did the opposite, with former number 1 pick finding himself outside of the top 20 quarterbacks in Completion Percentage, Red Zone Completion Percentage, Deep Ball Completion Percentage, and Pressured Completion Percentage. This inaccuracy also contributed to his 14 interceptions thrown.
With a spotty pass-blocking offensive line, a stable of pass catchers not as good as it once was and no added value from his legs, there is great pressure on Palmer’s 38-year old arm to pull out at least one more standout season. A healthy, productive season out of Palmer is obviously a must for the win-now Cardinals. With the quarterback position so loaded in fantasy, however, he’s not worth a spot on your fantasy team unless you’re desperate for QB help.
3. Does Bruce Arians Run David Johnson Into the Ground?
Entering 2017, no one questions that David Johnson is one of the three best running backs in football. If given the touches, Johnson would likely shatter total yardage records. Whether he approaches those benchmarks hinges on how often Head Coach Bruce Arians goes to the well. After accruing nearly 420 touches in 2016 (about 26 per game), how much further can he be pushed?
Running back is one of the most injury-prone positions in all of sports. Once a running back breaks down, they’re broken. Johnson is surprisingly already entering his age 26 season, so his physical decline isn’t too far away. Does Arians notice this and get the most out of him before then? The opportunity shares for backups Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, and Kerwynn Williams will be telling signs. Regardless of how it unfolds, Johnson is worth his pricey draft capital. Don’t overthink it.
4. Who Steps Up as the Third Receiver?
A healthy duo of Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown will be the top two wideouts of the Cardinals every time, but who steps up after them?
JJ Nelson shined in limited opportunities last year, but the deck is stacked against a 5’10, 156-pound receiver evolving into a consistent game-changer. Jaron Brown is another experienced Cardinal with the potential to start. His “experience,” however, consists of two seasons with 23 targets each. Entering Cardinals training camp, there are the two intriguing small-school rookies in Chad Williams and Krishawn Hogan. Williams has the obvious edge here with his 3rd round pedigree to Hogan’s undrafted status, but Hogan is a size-speed specimen that translated his athleticism into college production, so he’s not your average undrafted player.
How these reps will be split–and how the players take advantage of them–will be things to take note of leading up to Week 1 and beyond. If one player separated themselves from the pack, they would be worth a shot as a waiver wire flex pickup.
5. Is this the End of the Road for Larry Fitzgerald?
With every passing year, the Larry Fitz retirement rumors only grow louder and louder, and for good reason. Few athletic endeavors are tougher on the body than football, and Larry likely has a Hall of Fame bust waiting for him when he does decide to walk away. At the same time, however, he still presents value to a football team, especially if he continues to post 100-catch seasons. He heavily considered calling it quits after 2016, meaning there’s a pretty good shot that this is it. Precipitous athletic decline often happens swiftly, and it’s much better to go out like Calvin Johnson instead of like Andre Johnson.
Cardinals fans and football fans alike should enjoy every moment with Fitzgerald on the gridiron this year because unfortunately his days are numbered. He can be safely drafted as a back-end WR2 this year.
After experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows over the last two seasons, the Cardinals have established a new, volatile identity. With volatility comes uncertainty. With uncertainty comes value–for those who look in the right spots. Getting early reads on the team before the season starts can go a long way in picking the right players for your fantasy team. That’s exactly what we devoted fantasy gamers are looking to do.