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One NFL coach believes Carson Palmer is still an elite quarterback

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throw under pressure against the Chicago Bears during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Up and down Carson Palmer goes.

Every year, ESPN’s Mike Sando uses anonymous NFL insiders — general managers, coaches and coordinators, all the way down to a few scouts — to patch together a ranking of quarterbacks based on tiers.

The Arizona Cardinals quarterback has jumped around from 21st in 2014, to 15th in 2015 to 10th last year. He’s generally been in the second or third tiers, and he falls in the latter heading into 2017.

The 37-year-old comes off a relatively down season, falling from first in ESPN’s Total QBR to 18th the last two years. Tied with Marcus Mariota as the 16th-best quarterback for 2017, that effectively makes Palmer average.

But one thing stood out in Sando’s polling this year. Palmer’s middle-of-the-road standing might be due to the questionable circumstances around him — losses due to special teams and poor production due to disappointing receiver and offensive line play.

One league insider believes Palmer takes too much flak. He believes Palmer’s team doesn’t take enough blame.

The grizzled, old-school coach who placed Palmer in the top tier was a very lonely man in that area.

“He has played behind a fairly (expletive) offensive line, he is tough, he is smart, he is accurate, he really has only one possession receiver in (Larry) Fitzgerald to make the tough catch intermediately,” this coach said. “He has every throw in his arm. When he has lost, last year the defense and special teams were terrible at times, and they were turning the ball over — not just on interceptions. I have a soft spot in my heart for him because they don’t protect him and he just gets the (expletive) knocked out of him.”

That’s a kind assessment of Palmer.

It’s not so kind to his Cardinals teammates.

Palmer will be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect last season. He completed more passes in more attempts and saw a slight drop in completion percentage (from 63.7 percent to 61.0 percent) compared to his stellar 2015. His yards-per-attempt dipped dramatically from 8.7 to 7.1, a sign the deep ball production wasn’t there in 2016.

The Cardinals’ patch work offensive line failed Palmer, who threw 26 touchdowns to 14 picks. Hits battered him, and Arizona admitted this offseason that Palmer may have overworked his throwing arm heading into last season.

This year could test how right the single veteran coach is in his assessment.

Palmer’s receiving group still has its question marks, but a healthy John Brown and J.J. Nelson would give him the downfield tools to complement Fitzgerald’s game. The offensive line staying healthy would give him the chance to prove he’s still got the deep ball, too.

Maybe, just maybe, those things will go in Arizona’s favor. And if they do, Palmer returning to his 2015 form would justify that opinionated coach that still believes Palmer’s still got it.

Bruce Arians, is that you?

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