Thursday, Sep 5th
Monday, Sep 9th

NFC WEST

written by :: Mike Johnson

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Coaching/Philosophy/Scheme Changes::

  • Offense: Drew Petzing returns as the Cardinals offensive coordinator this season after leading the Cardinals 21st ranked DVOA offense in 2023.
  • Defense: Head coach Jonathan Gannon has a defensive background and will look to turn around an Arizona defense that allowed 20 or more points in 15 of 17 games last year.

Personnel Changes::

  • Kyler Murray is back as Arizona’s franchise quarterback in 2024 after coming back from a torn ACL midway through last season. Murray played well and will look to regain his elite form this year.
  • James Conner had a strong season and will return to lead the Cardinals backfield in 2023. Third-round pick Trey Benson from Florida State is expected to contribute and potentially challenge Conner’s hold on the backfield.
  • The Cardinals WR room will look very different in 2024 and should have more clarity on roles. #4 overall draft pick Marvin Harrison Jr. should immediately be the top option in the passing game, with Michael Wilson providing a big-bodied target on the other side and Greg Dortch manning the slot.
  • Trey McBride was arguably the biggest bright spot of the Cardinals 2023 season. He will enter his third season as one of the top players in his position in the league.

Schedule::

  • Divisional Games (6)::
    • LAR x2, SF x2, SEA x2
  • NFC North (4)::
    • @ GB, @ MIN, vs. CHI, vs. DET
  • AFC East (4)::
    • @ MIA, @ BUF, vs. NYJ, vs. NE
  • Other (3)::
    • @ CAR, vs. LAC, vs. WAS

Bull Case::

Kyler Murray looked very good to end the 2023 season and had the Cardinals playing relatively well down the stretch with wins over playoff teams Philadelphia and Pittsburgh during December. Arizona could build off that strong finish and turn things around quickly, as they seem to have pieces in place. Marvin Harrison Jr. presents an immediate game-changer on the perimeter and pushes everyone else on the offense into roles more appropriate for their skill sets::

  • Second-year WR Michael Wilson is a solid player but was never going to have consistent success as a focal point. 
  • Greg Dortch has been highly productive whenever he has been given opportunities and should now have more room than ever in the middle of the field working out of the slot with defenses having to account for Harrison, McBride, and Murray. 
  • Trey McBride had a terrific sophomore season but was often stymied by opposing defenses who sold out to stop him with no relevant perimeter threats to punish them. Harrison’s presence should keep that from happening. 

The Cardinals have a solid running game and ranked #1 in PFF rushing grade in 2023. They have a dynamic centerpiece at wide receiver, a dynamic dual-threat QB, and a high-end tight end (something that has become common among the top offensive teams in the league). They have all the pieces in place to make a big jump offensively and benefit from a very favorable schedule.

Bear Case::

The Cardinals are going to be a better team in 2024. However, for our purposes, that doesn’t mean they are locked in as a good bet. The “easier” schedule could keep them from needing to open things up in many games, and their conservative tempo and play calling, along with an improved defense, could leave this team in a lot of “grind it out” 20-17 types of games. The ADP’s of their top four skill players are in the 2nd, 4th, 7th, and 7th rounds. That is a lot of draft capital for an offense to support, especially one that may not try to be aggressive all the time. 

The optimism around the Cardinals is warranted, and their offense is likely to be good, but the associated cost seems to be pricing them all for their upside. The addition of MHJ obviously helps them on paper, but if any of their key players miss some time, it will affect the entire offense to a significant degree. Another negative data point is the strength of their division, with the 49ers and Rams having strong defenses coming off playoff appearances and the Seahawks having hired arguably the top defensive coach in the league from 2023. This is a team that we need to be able to separate “real football” from fantasy football and be cost-sensitive when evaluating.

Expectations/Takeaways::

Arizona is a team that I expect to be far higher on than the market in 2024. The pieces are all there, and the tone for competing was set in Gannon’s first year as head coach. They also benefit from a “last place” schedule, as they will face the Panthers, Chargers, and Commanders. It would not shock me to see Arizona make the playoffs in 2024, and I believe they will easily beat their current “win total” line of 6.5. Things are looking up::

  • Kyler Murray is currently the QB7, being drafted in the early 7th round. I think this is a “fair” price for him, and I’ll definitely have some exposure, but not necessarily a screaming bargain considering the ADPs of most of the top QBs are in the 4th to 6th rounds now.
  • James Conner had a great 2023 season. That being said, he turns 29 in May and has new competition in Trey Benson while his ADP is multiple rounds higher this year than it was last year. He’s going to be a “fade” for me, while Benson will be a target in the 10th round or later.
  • Marvin Harrison Jr. is a terrific player and highly deserving of all the praise he received entering the league. Kyler Murray showed early in his career that he is willing to pepper an elite wide receiver with targets. MHJ has a mid-2nd round ADP and I will be drafting him aggressively in the second round of drafts.
  • Trey McBride is a player that I expect to continue playing at a very high level, but his 4th round ADP feels a bit rich for me. More specifically, his draft position relative to his peers feels relevant as he is going a round before Andrews, Pitts, and Kincaid….and multiple rounds before guys like George Kittle and Evan Engram….plus guys like Hockenson and Goedert are currently undervalued much later. All that said, on rosters where I take McBride, I will also try to draft Murray. If he is paying off a 4th round ADP as a top-3 TE, then Murray is probably smashing.
  • Greg Dortch is very intriguing to me as a late-round wide receiver with upside. He provides nice weekly contributions, and if MHJ or McBride ever misses time, he could post some big games thanks to heavy volume.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

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