The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the 2017 NFL standings. The next team on the docket:
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
Through the Cardinals’ first six contests, then 37-year old Carson Palmer showed to signs of slowing down as he was on pace to finish the season with 4,949 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. However, Palmer suffered a broken arm during the Cardinals’ Week 7 loss to the Rams, which sent the veteran quarterback to injured reserve for the remainder of the season. With Palmer out, the Cardinals were forced to turn to a combination of journeyman Drew Stanton (started Weeks 9-10, 16-17) and 2011 first-round bust Blaine Gabbert (started Weeks 11-15). With Palmer deciding to retire at the conclusion of the 2017 season and both Stanton and Gabbert set to become free agents this Spring, the Cardinals have zero quarterbacks currently under contract for 2018. The expectation for the Cardinals is they will either make a strong push for Kirk Cousins once free agency begins, or take one of the top signal-callers available in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Fantasy owners who spent a top-two draft selection on David Johnson were severely burned, as the stud running back didn’t even make it through Week 1 before suffering a dislocated wrist that cost him the rest of the season. The immediate fallout of the David Johnson injury was the Cardinals re-signing of veteran Chris Johnson and installing him as the starter, a plan that lasted four games until the Cardinals engineered a trade for the disgruntled Adrian Peterson from the New Orleans Saints. Peterson hit the ground running in his first start with his new team, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals’ Week 6 win against the dysfunctional Buccaneers. Peterson’s triumphant return to fantasy owners good graces was short lived however, as the 7-time Pro Bowler was held to under 30 rushing yards in three of his next five starts and did not find the end zone again. Peterson’s season then ended prematurely when a mysterious neck injury sidelined him for the Cardinals final five games. Kerwynn Williams (2013 7th-round pick) and Elijhaa Penny (2016 undrafted free agent) were left to handle rushing duties, with Williams serving as the primary ball carrier and Penny as the short-yardage specialist. David Johnson is expected to be fully healthy entering the offseason, and remains a RB1 worthy of first round fantasy consideration as Cardinals’ workhorse back with little competition for touches. The fact that Johnson’s 2017 season-ending injury was an upper-body one (as opposed to lower) should alleviate any concerns of compromised explosion, though there are still red flags present in the Cardinals offense given they do not know who their 2018 quarterback will be and could also be without a number one wideout if Larry Fitzgerald decides to retire. With Johnson back healthy, Adrian Peterson becomes irrelevant as a two-down back who doesn’t contribute in the pass game. Turning 33-years old this March, Peterson is expected to be released during the offseason, though his illustrious career numbers make it likely he won’t have too much trouble finding a job elsewhere.
Make it three consecutive seasons of at least 107 catches and 1,000+ receiving yards for the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, as the 14-year NFL veteran continues to defy father time. Fitzgerald now sits in third place on the all-time receiving leaderboard in both receptions (1,234) and yardage (15,545) and would need just 390 receiving yards next season in order to vault past Terrell Owens for second in that category. Currently, all signs point to Fitz coming back and play for a 15th season, and it’s likely the direction Arizona takes with respect to their quarterback position will determine how quickly a decision is made. Assuming Fitz does play in 2018, there’s no reason to think he can’t succeed, with more value coming in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues. J.J. Nelson got off to a fast start in 2017, averaging 69 receiving yards per game and scoring twice over his first five contests. From Week 6 onward however, Nelson never caught more than two passes in any game. Listed at just 5’10” and 160 lbs., it’s likely Nelson just isn’t built to be an all-purpose receiver. John Brown is now two years removed from his breakout 2015 season where he posted 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns, as injuries have continued to dog him. Brown will enter free agency this April, and the Cardinals will have a decision on their hands as to whether they want to keep the soon-to-be 28-year old receiver, or let him test the open market. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals’ offense right now, it’s likely Browns’ fantasy fortunes lie with another team, though he needs to prove he can stay healthy to be worth a spot on fantasy rosters. Jaron Brown mostly earned his playing via hard work in practice, which made him a favorite of former head coach Bruce Arians. Jaron is also scheduled to become a free agent this Spring, though he projects more as a depth receiver with little to no fantasy regardless of which team signs him.
It’s been ages since the Arizona Cardinals boasted a consistently fantasy-relevant tight end, a trend that 2017 didn’t change. Jermaine Gresham (chosen 21st overall in the 2010 NFL Draft) has been trending downward since arriving in the desert in 2015, averaging just 312 receiving yards with the Cardinals. Having suffered an Achilles tear in Week 17, Gresham will be up against the clock to be ready for the start of the 2018 season. Undrafted rookie Ricky Seals-Jones popped up seemingly out of nowhere during the middle of the season, averaging 56.7 receiving yards per game and scoring three times between Week 11 and 13 after catching zero passes in his prior 10 games. Seals-Jones appeared to have developed a connection with Cardinals’ quarterback Blaine Gabbert, though as Gabbert’s performance deteriorated during the final third of the season (ultimately leading to a benching), Seals-Jones went back to being a ghost, catching just three passes for 31 yards from Week 14 onwards. With Gresham highly unlikely to be a full participant in training camp this Summer, Seals-Jones has the inside track to open 2018 as the Cardinals’ starting tight end which would put him on the sleeper watch list.