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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Arizona Cardinals

2019 Coaching Staff

No one really expected the Cardinals to do well last year, but somehow the Cards managed to fall short of the low bar set for them. The Steve Wilks era lasted all of one year, with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy not even lasting that long after being fired following a week 7 beatdown at the hands of the Broncos. Interim OC Byron Leftwich couldn’t do much better, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the lack of talent outside of David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

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The Cardinals look to the 2019 season with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury – who was just fired from Texas Tech – to tutor Josh Rosen and hopefully turn him into the franchise QB Arizona drafted him to be. Kingsbury will be his own offensive coordinator while Vance Joseph will run the defense after being fired from his position as the Broncos head coach.

What to Expect

There are questions about Kingsbury’s ability to be an NFL-caliber head coach. After all, what was the Arizona front office thinking when they signed a coach who went 35-40 at the college level? However, keep in mind that recruiting is a big part of being a college coach; if you have a team stacked with future NFL talent playing against Division III Podunk University, Bill Belichick himself would have troubles pulling off the upset. Suffice to say that Kingsbury was not adept at recruiting while at Texas Tech. His recruiting classes rarely strayed from the mid-40s rankings, which is on the low side for a major Big 12 school.

Fortunately for him, recruiting isn’t his job with the Cardinals. His job will only be to coach. There might still be some questions about his ability to be a head coach – which may limit his longevity at the NFL level – but there’s not much negative you can say about his ability to scheme an offense. During his tenure at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders never fell out of the top 20 in total offense and never fell out of the top 10 in passing offense. While it is true that his best years came with Patrick Mahomes at the helm, his offenses ran just fine while talent-deficient as well. This is important on a team like the Cardinals, and gives some hope that Arizona might provide some fantasy relevance in 2019. If nothing else, one of the byproducts of Kingsbury’s air raid offense is the tendency for lots of plays, yards, and high-scoring games. Essentially, we may be looking at something of a Kansas City-lite.

The Data

Kingsbury’s offenses at Texas Tech spent most of their time around a 60/40 pass-run ratio, though this dropped to more of a 55/45 ratio toward the end of his tenure. While the air raid offense certainly lends itself to a pass-heavy split, a very weak defense also played a part in that. Proportionately, the Cardinals have far more talent on defense than Kingsbury ever worked with at the college level. However, DC Vance Joseph has an inconsistently mediocre record between his one season as the Miami defensive coordinator and two seasons as Denver head coach. The Cardinals’ NFC West opponents won’t make Vance’s job any easier either; the Rams are NFC favorites, and the Seahawks and 49ers are no slouches themselves. Arizona is likely to frequently find themselves trailing, which will lead to more pass-heavy game scripts.

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers

Of course, the real question is where will all those passes be going? If Kingsbury’s time at the college level is any indication, the answer is mostly wide receivers. A whopping 78% of all Texas Tech completions in the Kingsbury era went to wideouts. Running backs brought in a respectable 17%, but tight ends saw less than 5% of all completions during that time (almost all of which came during the 2013 season when Jace Amaro led the team in receiving). This type of split is unlikely to continue in Arizona due to the dearth of wide receiver talent, but it still provides insight as to the type of scheme Kingsbury likes to run. The biggest difference we’re likely to see as he adjusts his offense for the NFL is that the running back split should noticeably increase. After all, if your offense features one of the best receiving backs in the NFL while also lacking receiver talent, it makes sense that your running back will see a few more targets than usual.

Also worth considering; the Cardinals offensive line gave up the 5th most sacks in the NFL last year. Unless Arizona can find some significant upgrades to the O-line either through free agency or the draft, I don’t see any reason for that to improve. Yes, Kingsbury’s scheme should be better, but if the offensive line is still bad and you’re still throwing the ball a ton then you’re still inviting a beatdown on your QB.

Fantasy Impact

Arizona will be running a pass-happy offense while likely playing from behind more often than not. The bulk of those throws will likely go to wide receivers, but keep an eye out for a prolific receiving year for RB David Johnson to cover some of the talent deficiency plaguing the Cardinals.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 420 Attempts
Projected Passing: 335 Completions on 555 Attempts, 50 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 200 Receptions on 345 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 90 Receptions on 135 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 45 Receptions on 75 Targets

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