The Arizona Cardinals were a defense in 2015 where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Despite starting a safety at ILB most of the season and once again rolling out a pass rush that could get 10 percent off at Denny’s, the Cardinals finished the season fifth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense en route to a trip to the NFC Championship Game.
The Cardinals lost a few pieces in free agency, but the team also made a huge addition, obtaining Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones (DL8) in a trade with the New England Patriots.
Jones may have been a big get for the Cardinals from an NFL perspective, but he isn’t close to being the nost desirable IDP option on the Redbirds defense.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
Just as has been the case for a few years, the top fantasy target on the Arizona defense remains defensive end Calais Campbell (DL20), a solid DL1 selection who annually compensates for modest sack numbers with robust tackle production. Heading into the ninth season of his career (and a contract year to boot), Campbell told Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports he intends to make some noise on the field in 2016.
“The biggest thing is trying to dominate games every single game,” Campbell said. “Every time I step on the field I want to be the most dominant player on the field. I’ve just got to put that work in to make sure I’m physically fit and mentally where I need to be.”
With Campbell’s future in the desert uncertain, the Cardinals spent a Round 1 pick on the DL in 2016, selecting Robert Nkemdiche (DNP) of Ole Miss. It was a pick that met with the approval of Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. “The Cardinals made a trade this offseason to make the pass rush better by getting Chandler Jones from the Patriots,” Mayock said. “Now, they make the inside better. This is a top-10 talent, but has inconsistent tape. I think he ended up in a great spot. The Cardinals were 20th in the league in sacks last season, and they will get better this year. From a value perspective, this is a home-run pick.”
Nkemdiche has the talent to one day be a force up front in Arizona. But young defensive linemen usually take time to adapt to the NFL, so his IDP appeal in 2016 is limited mainly to very deep redraft leagues and dynasties.
The days of Deone Bucannon (DB2) playing strong safety or a “hybrid” role for the Cardinals are done — he’s an inside linebacker, with the positional eligibility in IDP leagues to match. At less than 220 pounds Bucannon is really small for an ILB, but he told Robby Baker of KPNX-TV that adding a lot of weight isn’t in his plans.
“I can put on a bunch of weight but that’s not going to help me out. My game is unique, as far as my speed goes and what I can do within the box and covering receivers,” Bucannon said in regards to finding the right balance for his body.
Bucannon didn’t play small in 2015, topping 100 total tackles and 90 solos on his way to fantasy production that would have ranked among the top-10 fantasy linebackers. He’s worth a look as an upside IDP LB2 with the chance to once again post LB1 numbers in 2016.
Batterymate Kevin Minter (LB35) has been a relative disappointment since the Cardinals made him a second-round pick in 2013, but he told Kellan Olson of Arizona Sports he intends to step it up in 2016. “Going into this season I need to take another step forward,” Minter said. “I still feel like I haven’t really met my expectations yet.” Minter hasn’t met IDP owners’ expectations either, but he could be a sneaky value pick late if he continues in a three-down role for the team.
As to Jones, he’s a great acquisition for the Cardinals from an NFL perspective, a player capable of both getting after opposing quarterbacks and taking pressure (and blockers) off of Campbell. But a switch to outside linebacker robs him of most of his fantasy value in all but the most big play-heavy IDP formats.
By virtue of his five year, $62.5 million contract extension, Tyrann Mathieu (DB3) is now the NFL’s highest paid safety that isn’t exactly a safety (in 2015 he played the majority of his snaps as a slot corner). Campbell told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss Mathieu is worth every penny.
“He’s very deserving,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of guys who played very well and made big-time plays, but he’s been special. He’s been the heart and soul of our defense the last couple of years. When he’s on the field, we’re that much better. He’s very deserving.”
Mathieu’s recovery from a second ACL tear adds a bit of risk to drafting the fourth-year pro as a DB1. However, there’s also no denying that Mathieu possesses elite upside, and if he maintains CB eligibility and your IDP league requires them he’s light-years better than any other player at the position.
With Bucannon at ILB full-time and Rashad Johnson (DB56) now in Tennessee, the role of strong safety for the Cardinals in 2016 should fall to fourth-year veteran Tony Jefferson (DB29). Jefferson was streaky IDP play in 2015 — capable of top-10 production on weeks where the matchups were right only to vanish the next when the snaps weren’t there.
Those snaps should come with more regularity this season, making Jefferson a potential value target late for savvy IDP owners who don’t like to invest significant draft capital in the secondary.