Handful of Cardinals make fantasy football sense in 2023
Sep 3, 2023, 7:05 AM
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Fantasy football is as much planning and preparation as it is luck.
Luck when it comes to health, luck when it comes to the waiver wire and luck when it comes to your players actually performing.
But more than luck, it’s preparation.
That’s where we come in. With a little help from Arizona Sports’ Cardinals reporter Tyler Drake, we’re here to help prepare you on what Arizona Cardinals, if any, are worth looking at as you prepare for your fantasy football draft.
Note: The recommendations and rankings via ESPN fantasy are based on the typical team build of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a flex player, one tight end, one defense and one kicker.
Which Arizona Cardinals should you draft in fantasy football?
Kyler Murray is ranked as QB19 this season, putting him alongside a who’s who of who’s for some football novices: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Carolina’s Bryce Young, Las Vegas’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Indianapolis’ Anthony Richardson.
Until anyone knows Murray’s status for the season moving forward, he’s a waiver-wire addition or roster stash at best.
Even if K1 were healthy, at a ranking of around the 20th-best quarterback, he’d be someone to evaluate as a backup fantasy quarterback. In 10-plus games last season he threw for 2,368 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also had three scores on the ground and an additional 418 rushing yards, including 100 rushing in a single game.
With Murray’s return date unclear, going elsewhere for a fantasy backup is probably the best route.
As for the other quarterbacks on the roster, it’s too risky to trust potential Week 1 starters Josh Dobbs or Clayton Tune until we see some regular season tape on them.
Tyler Drake’s take: If you feel like your lineup is set and you have some depth built up, I think it would be a sneaky play to snag Murray late in fantasy drafts. I’m talking last two rounds late. We have no idea when he will return, but when he does, the QB will be looking to prove he’s still got it. Having a QB who can tuck and run is just extra points in your fantasy pocket, and getting a healthy Murray midseason or beyond could move the needle for teams with QB questions or injuries. As for Dobbs and Tune, it’s wait-and-see mode until someone wins the Week 1 job. Even when the dust clears, it’s best to leave these two sidelined from a fantasy standpoint.
As always, the million-dollar question at running back is durability. James Conner finished the 2022-23 campaign with 782 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 46 catches for 300 yards and a receiving touchdown. Those marks, however, came on 183 carries in 13 games played. Even when he was in the lineup, he only reached 20 carries twice. On the flip side, he had fewer than 10 attempts three times.
Despite being RB1 in Arizona, he’s RB21 in the fantasy world, meaning if you’re operating in a two-back league, he’ll slot more as an RB2. But 46 catches is nothing to sneeze at if you’re in a point-per-reception (PPR) league.
Drake’s take: Conner may not be among the top names at the position, but he’s definitely worth a look based on volume alone. The starter is expected to see the lion’s share of carries this season in an offense centered around running the rock. Keaontay Ingram will see his touches, but I think Conner is very underrated this season, regardless if the team trails more games than not. And he’s even more underrated as a pass catcher!
The strategy for many in recent fantasy drafts has been to attack wide receivers in the early rounds. Coming back and nabbing Conner, a guy who could very well lead Arizona in scores this season, is a massive W in my book (and something I did myself in a recent draft).
With the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown is the biggest name left in the wide receiver corps for the Cardinals.
Currently sitting at around WR30 because of the sketchy quarterback situation, Brown averaged 8.9 targets per game last season.
In Weeks 1-6, he averaged 10.6 targets per game, but that was with his former college quarterback Murray in — and his biggest competition for balls in Hopkins out. In Weeks 12-18, he averaged 5.8 without Murray and with Hopkins on the field. It’s likely his targets fall somewhere in the middle.
Brown isn’t in the WR1 tier and should be seen as a WR2 or flex option.
Drake’s take: Brown was quick to make his presence known last season before going down with a foot injury. He is the unquestioned No. 1 option on the team right now and should command a lot of looks when on the field.
But as far as value, let me give you another name: Rookie Michael Wilson.
The wideout caught the attention of his teammates, coaches and just about everyone else taking in practices early on this offseason and continues to shine. His stock as a fantasy asset has increased, but he still could be a late-round addition that could make an impact as the season progresses and injuries crop up elsewhere on your fantasy roster.
Greg Dortch also brings some added late-round/waiver wire value given his returning duties.
Zach Ertz may not jump to mind when it comes to who many fantasy teams want.
When Ertz was on the field last season, he averaged 6.9 targets per game, which would place fourth in the league behind only Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson and Mark Andrews, three must-have tight ends. However, his 69 total targets were limited by 10 weeks of play due to a torn ACL.
Drake’s take: Ertz was one of, if not the most important pass catcher on this team a season ago before going down with his torn ACL. There may be some rust out the gate but expect him to be that security blanket he has been for Arizona’s signal callers in what will be a very run-heavy offense with two-tight end sets.
Second-year pro Trey McBride and blocking-focused Geoff Swaim could serve as potential week-to-week waiver wire adds early on based on how Ertz is performing, too, though could be very touchdown-dependent.
Defense and special teams are often an afterthought in many leagues, but they can be the difference between winning and losing.
The big question mark for the Cardinals is whether or not they’ll be able to stop the run. Their first four games are against four teams that love to run the rock in the Washington Commanders, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.
Arizona could be a sneaky addition depending on matchup based on turnover potential, though, with head coach Jonathan Gannon’s philosophy of stopping explosive plays and taking the ball away. Arizona had four defensive touchdowns and is returning playmakers Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson and Zaven Collins to the fold.
Still, the defense is ranked No. 24 in fantasy. That’s a little low if you’re going to be looking for a bye-week solution.
Drake’s take: The question marks surrounding the defensive line and secondary make Arizona’s defense/special teams one to avoid. Could be a serviceable unit against teams like the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, though!
When it comes to fantasy value, Matt Prater missed four games last season, which isn’t great. He also only made five of his six field goal attempts over 50 yards. But the most shocking stat? He made 17 extra points (out of 18) versus 47-of-49 in 2021.
If the offense doesn’t find pay dirt — which was the case in Kliff Kingsbury’s final year at the helm — teams with Prater won’t get that free point after the touchdown.
If the offense is stagnant, how many field goal attempts will he get?
Teams really shouldn’t overspend on kickers in the first place, but Prater comes into the season as K29. 29! There are only 32 teams in the league.
Drake’s take: You can certainly find less reliable options out there. Prater is not a terrible option if you’re in a pickle, especially with his knack at attempting 50-plus yarders! If he makes two, you are sitting with double-digit points!
The offense just has to get him in range.