The 2014 NFL season is fast approaching, which means fans are also getting excited about the upcoming fantasy football season.
Before your league’s fantasy football draft arrives, here’s a look at the Cardinals’ top five fantasy options for 2014 (scoring based on ESPN standard leagues):
1. Andre Ellington
2013 stats: 652 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 371 receiving yards, 1 TD (115 fantasy points; tied-24th among running backs)
Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall both produced 115 fantasy points as members of last season’s Arizona backfield. Mendenhall has since retired, and Ellington figures to be the Cards’ go-to guy this year.
The most exciting aspect of Ellington’s game is his ability to catch the ball, which means there will be opportunities for fantasy points even against defenses that are strong against the run. There are questions as to whether the second-year tailback can handle a full load of 20-25 touches per game – but that’s true of nearly every RB heading into a new season, including veterans who have done it before.
2014 prediction: 950 rushing yards, 7 TDs; 600 receiving yards, 2 TDs; 209 fantasy points
2. Larry Fitzgerald
2013 stats: 954 receiving yards, 10 TDs (146 fantasy points; 16th among wide receivers)
Fitz hasn’t gotten to the 1,000-yard receiving mark in either of his last two seasons, but there’s a good chance he’ll get there this year. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer has had a full season to become comfortable with the offense, and the emergence of young WR Michael Floyd (see below) should stretch opposing defenses.
Also, even though his yardage totals were lower than many had expected, Fitzgerald did score 10 times last season. Only six wide receivers scored more often in 2013.
2014 prediction: 1,100 receiving yards, 9 TDs (164 fantasy points)
3. Michael Floyd
2013 stats: 1,041 receiving yards, 5 TDs (128 fantasy points; tied-22nd among wide receivers)
Floyd followed up a disappointing rookie season by turning heads in the second half of his 2013 campaign. He hauled in 577 yards and three touchdowns in the Cards’ last seven games of the season.
Floyd has emerged as one of the NFL’s best deep-ball threats, as ESPN notes that his 14.6 yards per catch last season were a better mark than star WRs such as Fitzgerald, the Bears’ Brandon Marshall, the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant and the Bengals’ A.J. Green. Like Ellington, Floyd has a heck of a lot of upside, and if you can snag him beyond the fifth round in any 10-team fantasy league, he could be a steal.
2014 prediction: 1,050 receiving yards, 7 TDs (147 fantasy points)
4. Cardinals’ Defense/Special Teams
2013 stats: 20.3 points allowed per game, 20 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries, 5 TDs (164 fantasy points; fifth among D/ST)
The production of last year’s Arizona defense was perhaps more surprising, both from a fantasy and a real-world perspective, than that of any Cardinals’ offensive player. Under first-year head coach Bruce Arians, only five teams forced more turnovers in 2013 than the Cards did, and only six teams allowed fewer points.
The Cardinals come into this season with questions on defense, especially at the linebacker position. But they’ve bolstered their secondary in the offseason by drafting safety Deone Bucannon in the first round and adding veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The turnovers – especially the interceptions – should keep coming for the Cards in 2014.
2014 prediction: 21 points allowed per game, 22 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries, 6 TDs (170 fantasy points)
5. Carson Palmer
2013 stats: 4,274 passing yards, 24 TDs, 22 interceptions, 3 fumbles lost (209 fantasy points; 17th among quarterbacks)
Palmer was a popular choice last season as a backup QB in standard fantasy leagues and as a solid second starter in two-QB leagues, and he should be again this season. He was one of the NFL’s most consistent fantasy quarterbacks in the second half of last season, gaining at least 13 fantasy points in seven of the Cardinals’ last eight games.
At age 34, Palmer is past his prime, but with weapons like Fitzgerald and Floyd, along with Ellington out of the backfield, he should continue to be a viable option to replace an injured star QB or as a bye-week fill-in.
2014 prediction: 4,400 passing yards, 25 TDs, 18 interceptions, 3 fumbles lost (234 fantasy points)