Welcome to FantasyPilots.com, and our first installment of our Team Previews, where we outline three players from each team. This week, I will be previewing teams from the NFC West, while Logan Whaley will take on teams from the AFC West. Today we will be looking at three players from the Arizona Cardinals. The biggest question 2019 has for the Cardinals is: Will Kliff and Kyler’s Air Raid Offense take off? Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy a first class, non-stop trip to the Wild Wild West. The stats are on me, mimosas are on you.
The newest Man of the West has a lot to live up to after the Cardinals shipped off 2018 first round pick, Josh Rosen. Full disclosure, before the draft, I thought it was a mistake for the Cardinals to draft Murray when they had a young prospect in Rosen on the team. But I’ve come to believe Murray was the right choice for THIS offense.
Kliff Kingsbury is bringing a full-fledged Air Raid offense to the NFL for the first time. We saw glimpses of it last year in Tampa Bay, and at times with the Rams and Chiefs. We’ve also seen tangents of the Air Raid with Chip Kelly’s spread offense in Philadelphia and San Francisco a few years back. What does this mean for Murray? Murray will finish as the 2019 Rookie of the Year, and for you, provide QB1 Fantasy numbers!
Baker Mayfield impressed everyone, including his nemesis, Colin Cowherd, in his first year out of Oklahoma. He was able to turn his college Yards Per Attempt (YPA) of 11.5 into a dangerous 8.1 YPA in the pros. Now, what if I told you Kyler Murray had a better college YPA than Baker Mayfield? Is that something you would be interested in? Oh, and did I mention he runs too? Murray put up 11.6 YPA and 7.2 yards per rush attempt last year. And did I also mention that Murray ran the Air Raid Offense while at Oklahoma?
Murray is walking into a tailor-made offense, that fits his skill set perfectly. Murray will have to adjust to the pro game, but he should challenge Cam Newton for best rookie season of all time. So, where do I see the future 2019 Rookie of the Year finishing for fantasy? I have Kyler Murray finishing as a top 5 Quarterback this year to the tune of 375 completions/584 attempts/4392 passing yards/ 25 Passing Touchdowns/12 Interceptions/ 104 rush attempts/484 Rushing Yards/5 Rushing Touchdowns. His current ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator is QB13, in the early 10th round. Of course, there is always some risk with entrusting your fantasy team with a rookie QB, but as they say, “no risk it, no biscuit”. If you’re playing the waiting game when drafting Quarterbacks this year (which I highly recommend), Kyler Murray will blow his ADP out of the water, and will lead you to the Fantasy Playoffs.
With Kyler Murray’s expected success this year, someone has to be catching what he’s throwing. The Air Raid utilizes four receivers on the field, and the ball gets spread out A LOT! But of course, someone has to be the top receiver on the team and be a man of true grit, and that man will be Christian Kirk. Not only is Kirk familiar with the Air Raid Offense from his time at Texas A&M, but he and Kyler Murray were teammates and roommates for their freshman year at A&M (before Kyler transferred). In fact, Murray’s first college touchdown was to Christian Kirk. Kirk also managed to have shining moments in an anemic Mike McCoy offense last year, and looked like he was going to break out before he broke his foot.
Last year, in the 12ish games Kirk played, he had 21% of the Cardinals’ receptions, 27% of the receiving yards and 25% of their receiving touchdowns. He also has measurables that compare to Stefon Diggs and Antonio Brown. Not bad company to keep. Unfortunately, you can’t really look at the advanced metrics for Kirk because the offense was so bad last year, and will have a completely new look in 2019. Kirk did average 13.7 yards per reception (YPR) last year, which put him with Odell Beckham Jr (13.7 YPR), and just above Deandre Hopkins (13.4 YPR).
For 2019, I expect Kirk to have a huge breakout season. Right now, I have him at 146/95/1298/7. Currently Christian Kirk has an ADP of WR34 going in the early 8th round. Kirk will put up WR1 numbers. Grab him in the 7th round and look like a genius at the end of the season.
Who got burned by David Johnson last year? Raise your hand. Talk about one of the most disappointing first round picks from 2018. DJ felt like The Invisible Man on most fantasy teams by failing to run for 1000 yards and catching only 50 balls for 446 yards, yet somehow managed to still finish as RB10. A far cry from his monster 2016 season where he was the overall RB1. DJ has said multiple times that his goal is to have 1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving, which we love to hear as fantasy players! Will David Johnson have a bounce back year in this high flying offense? Yes, but hold your horses.
One of the major reasons DJ had so much trouble running last season (3.6 YPC), aside from Mike McCoy's offense, was the offensive line. The Cardinals had THE worst OL in the NFL last season, and that was before they were hit with injuries. With starting Center AQ Shipley returning from a torn ACL, and trading for Marcus Gilbert from the Steelers, the line should be better in 2019, but will still likely rank near the bottom of the league. That's okay though, better is what we're looking for, as the Cardinals had the 26th ranked offensive line in 2016 when DJ led many of you to the fantasy playoffs.
So if the two biggest hurdles to DJ last year are no longer an issue, then why am I still having you hold your horses? Spoiler alert: for my initial rankings, I don't have DJ in my top 12 running backs (I have him currently at RB14, not an indictment on him, I just like 13 other guys better). The big issue is the involvement in the passing game. I know, Air Raid Offense, Kyler Murray, improved situation, so what's the issue. I too was excited, and licking my chops to draft DJ in the first round. I, like I'm sure you have, kept hearing how much the running back gets used in Kliff's offense and how much Kyler utilized the position in college. When I started to do my rankings, I quickly found out none of that was true.
Last year at Oklahoma, all the running backs on Kyler's team COMBINED for 264 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns. That was between five running backs. Kilff's teams at Texas Tech used the running back a little more by having four running backs combine for 403 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in 2018, and 352 receiving yards and 1 touchdown in 2017. Nowhere near the 879 yards receiving and 4 receiving touchdowns DJ put up in 2016. DJ is more talented than the guys Kyler played with at Oklahoma, so I do envision Kyler using DJ more in Arizona.
For that reason, I have DJ as a second rounder for fantasy this year, rather than a first rounder, as most ADPs currently show. I do have him improving his numbers from last year, but as I said earlier, I currently have 13 other guys I like more than him. That may change as the off season progresses, or injuries inevitably occur. Right now, I have DJ slated for 256/1096/8 rushing and 64/48/464/4 receiving. Incredibly solid numbers, but the running back position is top heavy this year.
Thanks for visiting FantasyPilots.com! We’ll make sure you get to where you want to be: A Fantasy Football Championship. Be sure to check out the site daily, as we have new articles and information coming your way. Keep an eye out for Logan Whaley's previews of the AFC West this week, and my continuing coverage of the NFC West.