Cardinals No. 11 on fantasy power ranks: David Johnson eyes history

Juggernaut Index, No. 11: David Johnson eyeing history in Arizona

There have been nine individual seasons in NFL history in which a player has finished with at least 800 rushing and 800 receiving yards. It’s a rare double dip. Marshall Faulk managed to do it three times, because he was unfair. Faulk and Roger Craig are the only players to top 1000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. It’s an accomplishment so rare and so difficult that it really shouldn’t even be discussed as an attainable goal.

And yet last year, David Johnson was right there. He became the ninth member of the 800/800 club in Week 15 last season. Then, the following week, he surged past 2000 scrimmage yards. Johnson entered Arizona’s final game with a realistic shot at reaching 1000 receiving yards for the year, but a first-quarter MCL sprain derailed the effort.

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In the end, Johnson had to settle for leading the NFL in both scrimmage yards (2118) and touchdowns (20). He also led all running backs in targets (120), catches (80) and receiving yards (879). Johnson of course topped all fantasy scorers at his position by a wide margin. The most impressive aspect of his season was his ridiculous week-to-week consistency; he exceeded 100 total yards in every game through Week 16. When you needed him most, during the fantasy playoffs, he delivered 244 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns over two weeks.

Johnson was, without question, the most valuable asset in fantasy last season, regardless of your scoring format — and this year, he expects to be better. Johnson and head coach Bruce Arians have both openly discussed the possibility of increasing his workload.

“He’s still too young to over-use,” Arians said back in March.

We probably wouldn’t get widespread agreement from medical professionals on Arians’ too-young-to-over-use hypothesis, so that’s a small concern for anyone tied to DJ in a dynasty league. But it’s clear Johnson is going to see all the work he can possibly handle in 2017. He’s the consensus No. 1 pick in fantasy. Don’t overthink it. Johnson has repeatedly mentioned the possibility of delivering history’s third 1000/1000 season, and, coming from him, it doesn’t seem entirely crazy. If any back is going to approach 400 touches, DJ is the guy.

One of the many benefits to landing the top overall pick in a fantasy draft is that you can snag Johnson at the top, then spend the next 3-4 rounds stacking receivers. Owning DJ means you’ll be favored to win the RB matchup each week, no matter who you land as your second back. He’s a monster. Draft and enjoy.

OK, Johnson is great. Got it. Let’s talk Carson Palmer.

Whatever you think of Palmer at this stage of his career, at age 37, it’s impossible to not like his draft price. His ADP in Yahoo leagues is 131.5, which is basically free. He’s not even the first Carson selected in a typical draft; Wentz’s ADP is 130.1. Palmer is going off the board later than Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, and several other QBs he could easily outproduce this season. It’s madness.

This is not to say, of course, that Palmer is without flaws. He’s a creaky old quarterback entering his fourteenth season, and he turned the ball over 18 times last year. But the man also averaged 282.2 passing yards per game in 2016 while throwing 26 touchdown passes. He can still play a little. Palmer is also just one year removed from a season in which he passed for a 4671 yards and 35 TDs, leading the league in yards per attempt (8.7). He has a quality receiving corps at his disposal and he’s worked under Arians for the past four seasons. It’s tough to imagine he won’t earn a profit at his rock-bottom price. If the team can keep Palmer upright and uninjured, he can certainly challenge for a top-12 positional finish. He’s a prime target for those who wait until the end-game to draft quarterbacks.

Because the entire fantasy world seems to view Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits as predictive, I feel compelled to point out that Palmer was also at his worst on the road last season. Check the totals:

Home, 2016 – 301.5 YPG, 63.6 CMP%, 7.5 Y/A, 13 TDs, 3 INTs
Road, 2016 – 260.1 YPG, 58.0 CMP%, 6.6 Y/A, 13 TDs, 11 INTs

This isn’t something I’m even a tiny bit concerned about, as it isn’t a career-long issue with Palmer. But I realize that many of you need to find reasons to worry. Palmer opens with a pair of relatively friendly road games this season (at Det, at Ind), and I’m planning to rank him as a start-worthy fantasy option.

Drew Stanton remains the backup in Arizona, by the way. Let’s hope he never leaves the sideline.

Larry Fitzgerald, curiously under-appreciated fantasy star. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What’s new in Arizona’s receiving corps?

Not much of note, but that’s OK. The familiar names on this team’s receiving depth chart aren’t too shabby. Larry Fitzgerald somewhat quietly led the NFL in receptions last season, hauling in 107 passes for 1023 yards on 150 targets. It was his second straight year with triple-digit catches and the fourth of his Hall of Fame career. He’s a slot receiver these days with a low average target distance (8.3), so his days as a 1400-yard wideout are behind him. But he still has those hands and, at 6-foot-3, he’s still a reliable red-zone threat. Fitz saw the second-most targets inside the 10-yard line last season (12). Don’t overlook him simply because he’s a familiar name. Fitzgerald is a bargain at his ADP (67.1), particularly in PPR.

After Fitz, the Cardinals’ receiving hierarchy is somewhat complicated. John Brown is the most interesting range-of-outcomes guy on this roster, but he’s dealt with various tweaks during OTAs and camp (hamstring, quad). Brown’s 2016 season was compromised by the effects of the sickle-cell trait as well as a cyst on his spine, addressed at the end of the year. When he’s right, he’s an explosive big-play specialist. Brown topped 1000 receiving yards in 2015, averaging 15.4 yards per catch. Availability has been a problem recently, however, and few things are more important to a coaching staff.

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Brown’s current draft price (ADP 122.7) appropriately accounts for his ceiling, downside and uncertainty; you’ll get no argument from me if you take a guy with his talent outside the top-100 picks. Just make sure not to draft your way into a spot in which you’re banking on him as an every-week play.

Veteran Jaron Brown was running as the team’s No. 2 receiver with John Brown on the shelf, but that’s not likely to continue beyond the preseason. In Jaron’s best year, he caught 22 balls for 229 yards. J.J. Nelson is a deadly vertical threat with 4.28 timed speed, a terrific fit for a deep-strike offense, and he closed last season with a binge (4 TDs in 5 weeks). He’ll get interesting if/when John Brown is unable to go. Nelson doesn’t necessarily have the game’s best hands, and he’s not built to run every route (5-foot-10, maybe 160 pounds), but he can fly. He’s averaged 19.3 yards per catch over his two seasons.

Third-round rookie Chad Williams has generated little buzz, except when Arians called out his poor fitness. Pass on him, except as a very late flier in a rookie dynasty draft. This team’s tight end rarely surfaces as a fantasy factor, so you can ignore Jermaine Gresham in most formats.

Arizona’s D remains a fantasy asset.

The Cardinals defense allowed only 6.8 yards per pass attempt and 3.6 per carry last season, so this is still a formidable group. Arizona led the league in sacks (48), with Markus Golden and Chandler Jones each reaching double-digits. The Cards finished fourth in takeaways (28), too. This team has produced a top-10 fantasy D in each of the past four seasons, and it’s likely to happen again in 2017. The NFC West schedule is a definite plus.

2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 26.1 (6)
Pass YPG – 258.5 (9)
Rush YPG – 108.3 (18)
Yards per play – 5.4 (19)
Plays per game – 67.9 (2)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore, 27) Chicago, 26) Minnesota, 25) Detroit, 24) Denver, 23) Jacksonville, 22) Buffalo, 21) Philadelphia, 20) Miami, 19) Indianapolis, 18) Kansas City, 17) Washington, 16) NY Giants, 15) Tennessee, 14) LA Chargers, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Arizona