3-Point Stance: Wideouts Brown, Fitzgerald are not fantasy football mirages
As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Friday’s topic: The Arizona Cardinals.
As his superhuman pool jump showcased earlier this offseason, David Johnson appears to have rapidly recovered from a major Week 17 MCL injury. Adding confidence, he admitted he was “full throttle” in March. Without much competition for touches, and cemented into a three-down role, he’s slated for a mammoth workload… though some wonder if the Cards’ staff will try to preserve him. OVER/UNDER 349.5 total touches for the near consensus No. 1 overall fantasy pick this fall.
Liz – OVER. Do I believe a hyper-athletic 25-year-old can average 19 totes and 2.5 catches per game over the course of a 16-week season? Yeah, I do. That’s two fewer touches per week than he managed in 2016. Bruce Arians has been desperate to find his workhorse, and now that he’s landed an All-Pro talent like Johnson he’s not going to pump the brakes, especially given the team’s rapidly closing Super Bowl window. Don’t overthink this one. Draft Johnson and ride him to the finals.
Brad – OVER. It’s still hilarious how many people clowned yours truly for ranking Johnson No. 1 overall last draft season. Deniers spouted nonsense about overall sample size and believed crusty Chris Johnson actually posed a significant workload threat. Intelligent.
Johnson egged every detractor’s face through volume, multidimensionality and efficiency. Outside of setting the pace in fantasy points per game among RBs, he ranked top-three in receptions, red-zone carries, total touchdowns, yards after contact, evaded tackles and opportunity share. In layman’s terms, he was a throwback in the Eric Dickerson vein, a true three-down back who excelled in virtually every situation. Still only 25 years old and with only one rigorous season on the resume, he will again be the focal point. Bruce Arians’ 30-touch per game declaration for DJ may be slightly hyperbolic, but an uptick from the rusher’s 2016 workload (23.3 tch/g) is completely realistic. Functioning behind a top-10 offensive line, he is undeniably the No. 1 overall pick this year. If you disagree, your line of questioning is cloudier than John McCain’s. FF: 2,289 combined yards, 19 TDs.
Brad – UNDERVALUED. Fitz is to wide receivers what Tom Brady is to quarterbacks or Frank Gore to rushers, a nearly invincible asset who defies the erosive impacts of aging. Though Father Time hasn’t skipped a day of work, the ageless wonder continues to hit the juke button. He bounced back from rocky seasons in 2012 and 2014 with consecutive top-15 efforts in which he topped 100 receptions and 1,000 yards. Entering his Age 34 campaign, he is the personification of “slot machine.”
Fitzgerald’s 6.8 YPT will turn many away, but he should again tally 140-160 targets and rack abundant receptions, many inside the red zone. Really, he’s an older, wiser and cheaper version of Jarvis Landry (32.8 ADP, WR17). Betting against a 95-1050-7 season isn’t recommended, especially with his bosom buddy, Carson Palmer, still kicking.
PROPERLY VALUED. Numerous pundits took to Twitter this offseason imploring owners to plop their rumps back on the Brown bandwagon. After last year’s disastrous season and entrenched as one of Arians’ outside starters, he only has one direction to go, but a major rebound shouldn’t be assumed. It’s highly unlikely Palmer, at 37 years-old, will uncork with the success and regularity of 2015. Brown’s absence played a part in the passer’s unsightly 7.1 YPA last year, but a dramatic spike isn’t in the cards.
Stefon Diggs finished WR43 in standard leagues last fall sporting a 84-903-3 line. I believe Brown finishes in the 5-7 TD range, but his yardage output should hover around 800. In other words, anticipate only a modest profit, if any. Keep in mind, he’s already dealing with a hamstring injury.
Liz – PROPERLY VALUED. Despite his advanced age, Fitzgerald continues to work as a powerhouse for the Cardinals and fantasy managers alike. Racking up over 1,000 yards in back-to-back campaigns, the vet has been a top-twenty producer for two straight years. While his TD total decreased in 2016, nearly a quarter of his targets were in the red area of the field, proving his value near the end zone.
Entering his fourteenth year in the league, Fitzgerald has already stated that he wants to end his career in Arizona. Two months shy of his thirty-fourth birthday, it’s likely that 2017 will be his last active campaign. Given the Cardinals’ narrow Super Bowl window, I fully expect Fitz to ball out… for the first two thirds of the season before wearing down. He’s a fine WR3, but I’d try to sell-high before Week 10 (vs. SEA).
OVERVALUED. I dig that Brown is proactively trying to build chemistry with Carson Palmer, living with the team’s QB again this offseason. But I’m wary of speed guys with bad hammys. It’s been a recurring problem for Brown since his rookie year. In fact, two days into minicamp and the team’s perceived No. 2 receiver is already having soft tissue issues. That’s no good, especially with a younger and faster option just behind him on the depth chart. Perhaps Brown bounces back to 2015 form, but I’d rather take a flyer on John Ross or Danny Woodhead, both of whom are being selected around the same time.
MINING FOR GOLD. Every year daring treasure hunters traverse the harsh environment of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix in search of the legendary Lost Dutchman’s fortune. Channeling that adventurous spirit, what deep sleeper could produce statistical riches for owners in challenging formats this season?
Liz – J.J. NELSON. The younger faster option I mentioned? It’s J.J. Nelson. Last year, after the Cardinals’ Week 9 bye, when it had become clear that Brown’s physical issues were mounting, Nelson stepped up with aplomb. Scoring five TDs over seven weeks, the UAB product became a DFS darling. He also emerged as a playmaker for Arizona, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch. With the Cardinals receiving corps looking decidedly thin, and Brown’s health still in question, Nelson will be a factor heading into 2017. He’s worth a flyer deep into the double-digit rounds of 12-team drafts.
Brad – CHAD WILLIAMS. When Fitzgerald compares anyone to Anquan Boldin, fantasy fans, particularly of the dynasty variety, take notice. In late May, the veteran paralleled Williams to his former teammate marveling at the youngster’s strength and fly-trap hands. High praise.
At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, Williams has the size and profile to leave an indelible mark. His dynamite SPARQ score, which measures a player’s across-the-board athleticism, landed in the 99th percentile. His on-field production also impressed. Suiting up for Grambling in 2016, he smashed the competition at the FCS level totaling 90 receptions for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns. Some consider him a developmental prospect, but he owns terrific base skills. If Brown or Nelson succumb to injury, Williams will undoubtedly be a hot waiver commodity.