The 2018 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 final 2018 NFL standings.
Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Signed to a two-year, $40 million contract ($15 million of which was guaranteed) last March, Bradford was expected to be the Cardinals’ veteran stopgap for whichever quarterback the team chose in the 2018 draft, which ended up being Rosen at 10th overall. Bradford ended up being far worse than anyone could have predicted, averaging the second-lowest passing yards per attempt among quarterbacks who started at least three games, and ultimately being benched for the rookie midway through the Cardinals’ Week 3 loss to Chicago. The former 2010 first overall pick Bradford lasted a little over a month with the Cardinals following the benching before being released in November, and will cost the team $5 million against the salary cap in 2019. Now 31 years old, it’s widely speculated that Bradford’s NFL career may be over. With Bradford unable provide any sort of stability for Arizona’a offense, the team was forced to throw 21-year old Rosen to the wolves, and the result was not pretty. In 14 games played (13 starts) Rosen led the NFL with 19 turnovers, and finished with an NFL-low 66.7 passer rating among quarterbacks who attempted at least 150 throws. With the Cardinals having moved on from defensive-minded head coach Steve Wilks, there’s hope Rosen can develop into a solid NFL passer, though that will depend on whether Wilks’ replacement can tailor the team’s offense to the second-year quarterback’s strengths. Bringing in some additional pass game weapons, and improving an offensive line that ranked eighth-worst in pass protection according to Football Outsiders would go a long way toward fostering Rosen’s growth. For now, Rosen is well off fantasy radars in just about any format for 2019.
While it may not be appropriate to label fantasy’s overall RB9 in 2018 a bust, the word disappointment certainly fits the bill for Johnson. Drafted as a consensus Top 4 overall pick last summer, Johnson was held to less than 60 rushing yards in 10-of-16 games played, while also catching three balls or fewer in 11 of them. Whether it was because they were unwilling, or just didn’t know how, the Cardinals coaching staff refused to take advantage of Johnson’s pass catching prowess the same way Bruce Arians did during the 2015 and 2016 seasons (116 catches and 1,336 receiving yards for Johnson over those two campaigns). There’s hope that whomever the team’s new offensive architect is can help Johnson recapture his mojo; however, it’ll need to happen soon if it’s ever going to happen again. With Johnson having just recently turned 27 years old, his window for elite running back production will likely close within the next two or three years. Johnson remaining healthy for all 16 games left 2018 fourth-round pick Chase Edmonds with little in the way of playing time, as the rookie failed to make any sort of fantasy impact outside of a two-touchdown performance in Week 13. Edmonds will be nothing more than an upside handcuff heading into the 2019 season.
While Fitzgerald’s 2018 season can’t be viewed as anything other than a success considering the future Hall of Famer’s advanced age (35), it was a letdown for anyone who spent an early-round fantasy draft pick on him and expected low-end WR1/high-end WR2 numbers. Hampered by some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL, Fitzgerald managed to go for more than 60 receiving yards in just three 2018 contests, and saw a three-year streak of at least 107 receptions broken. With Fitzgerald’s contract having expired at the conclusion of this past season, it’s unclear whether the 15-year veteran wants to continue his playing career, though the Cardinals are reportedly open to bringing him back. Should Fitzgerald decide to play a 16th season, he’ll likely be someone who is much more valuable to the Cardinals as a veteran leadership presence than someone on whom fantasy managers can rely. Rookie second-round draft pick Kirk began his Cardinals tenure buried on the receiver depth chart, though quickly ascended after Brice Butler was cut prior to Week 1, and Williams face-planted as a starter. Kirk proved himself dangerous with the ball in his hands, leading all Arizona wideouts in yards after catch, and scoring long touchdowns of 75 and 59 yards (in Weeks 5 and 11, respectively) before suffering a broken foot in Week 13 and landing on Injured Reserve. Assuming all goes well with his recovery, Kirk figures to have a legitimate chance to lead the 2019 Cardinals in receiving production. After making some noise during training camp, Williams won the No. 2 receiver role heading into Week 1, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing while battling ankle and hamstring injuries throughout the season. Williams’ draft pedigree (3rd round, 2016) won’t likely be enough to save him from the chopping block as the Cardinals install their third coaching regime in as many seasons.
With Gresham sidelined for all of training camp while recovering from an Achilles injury, the path was clear for second-year breakout candidate Seals-Jones to build on a promising 2017 rookie campaign. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as Seals-Jones was held to two or fewer receptions in 10-of-15 games played, despite finishing tied for second on the team in targets with Fitzgerald. Among all 96 NFL players targeted at least 65 times, only four had worse than Seals-Jones’ 49.3 percent catch rate. Fortunately for Seals-Jones, the Cardinals have bigger holes to fill than the tight end position, so it’s conceivable returns next season as the starter, while carrying some post-hype sleeper appeal playing in an offense that has nowhere to go but up. Gresham has essentially devolved into a high-priced blocker after signing a four-year, $28 million contract in March 2017. Arizona could save $4.75 million in cap room by cutting Gresham prior to June 1, but would also be on the hook for $3.5 million in dead money. However, after June 1, those numbers become a more palatable $6.5 million and $1.75 million, respectively.