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2022 IDP Fantasy Forecast: Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals will seek to make up for the loss of Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks, but did they do enough? Is this defense viable for IDP? @DarthDbacks has projections for this potentially worrisome defense.

The Arizona Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. This was partially due to the outstanding play of Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks. Both are not on the team anymore, but that means the Arizona Cardinals have more speed and youth playing. This isn’t always a bad thing. The Cardinals ranked 11th in yards given up. They were seventh in takeaways with 27. I expect that number to rise this year. They scarfed up 14 fumbles, the second-most in the NFL.

The Arizona Cardinals were 26th against the pass in terms of yards. They gave up the 8th-most touchdowns through the air. However, they picked off the ball 13 times. They were middle of the pack against the run. Yet, they gave up only ten rushing touchdowns, third-best. They stopped opponents from scoring on all but roughly 35% of offensive drives. That’s one of the better numbers in the NFL.

Under Vance Joseph, the Arizona Cardinals are an extremely blitz-happy team which explains their troubles covering the pass. This takes defenders away from coverage. Last year, they blitzed the fourth-highest amount on over 33% of the team’s plays. They had 41 sacks on the year. This led to them pressuring quarterbacks nearly 26% of the time. They scored 42 touchdowns. They were 10th best at scoring, allowing only 21.5 ppg. Clearly, Vance Joseph has created a contending defense over his three years in the desert. This year, the Arizona Cardinals aim to have one of the best defenses in the NFL and IDP.

Defensive Line

Zach Allen

Allen will be a starter for the Cardinals at the defensive end. He solidified that with his solid play in the 2021 season. Allen started 14 games and had an interception, and four passes defended, three fumble recoveries, a touchdown, and 48 combined tackles. Thirty of them were solo. He laid 14 hits on the quarterback with four sacks and five tackles for loss. He did this on 70% of the snaps, which is right in the area we want DL players to be. It could certainly be higher with an entire season of starting games.

He will not be an every-week must-start but a solid DL3/bye week fill-in. Allen is worthy of a roster spot as a DL3. If your league labels him as a DT, then he’s a strong DT2 that can start weekly. He’s only got upside with more playing time as a 25-year-old. He isn’t worth trading for but if you need some DL depth, see if Allen is on the waivers.

JJ Watt

Man, if only Watt could stay healthy. He was on pace for another fantastic season despite the lack of main stats last year before destroying his shoulder. He’s healthy again this year and should be 100% to start the season. JJ started seven games last year and had two pass deflections, a forced fumble, a sack, and 16 combined tackles. Ten were solo. He added in five tackles for loss and ten quarterback hits. Watt’s entering his age-33 season and will seek to remain healthy. That means he isn’t an every-down player but can still handle 60-70% of the snaps.

He’s a low-end DL3 with plenty of upside if he can find one last great season in him. However, be cautious about relying on him as he will likely miss some time. The last time he was truly a strong IDP asset was in 2018. He’s best left on your bench or on waivers to start the season. Though who he is as a person is best suited for the Hall of Fame.

Markus Golden

Golden is a DL/LB combo player, as many sites have him with dual designations. However, I wouldn’t recommend starting him at linebacker. He’ll score more points compared to many defensive line players than linebackers who wrack up the tackles. Golden’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He had 11 sacks last year yet routinely gets ignored. He played in 16 games and had 48 tackles, 33 solos, ten tackles for loss, and 19 quarterback hits. Markus recovered two fumbles while forcing four fumbles. He even added in a pass deflection.

He’s the Cardinals’ leading pass rusher this year so expect a decent amount of sacks. Golden will be relied upon to continue providing pressure with the help of other players. He’s an LB4 or DL2 since the sacks and impact plays will keep him relevant. I wouldn’t rely on him every week, but he’s a good depth for a contender as he enters his age-31 season.

Cameron Thomas

Thomas is one of my favorite dynasty sleepers in IDP. He reminds me a lot of JJ Watt when he was younger, which explains why some comped him to Watt. Regardless, he’s a strong run defender at the defensive end. He’ll get plenty of tackles that way. Thomas is a twitchy athlete with plenty of speed/power to shed blocks for tackles for loss or sacks. The third-round pick will be relied upon to bring excitement and youth to the Cardinals’ defense when he plays.

Last year at San Diego St., Thomas put up 71 combined tackles and 10.5 sacks. Not bad at all. He won’t do much this year but definitely find a way to add him. Stash him on your taxi and expect a second-year breakout. It could even be the first year if Watt gets hurt, forcing Thomas onto the field as a starter. He has plenty of upside to becoming a DL2, at least someday.

Myjai Sanders

While Sanders is not Chandler Jones, he’s the heir to the Jones position. Sanders might not start day one as the team’s pass rusher, but he will one day. The Arizona Cardinals will be relying upon Sanders to use his speed and power to grow fast into a sack artist. He’s an extremely flexible player, which helps him shed blocks and take odd routes to the quarterback. He was a dominant player in college with the Bearcats, where he had five pass breakups, seven sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 31 combined tackles in his final year.

Sanders is another taxi stash. He won’t be expected to be a star right away. However, with proper NFL coaching, he has a ton of potential. He could become a DL2 someday if he gets his pass-rushing down. Sanders will contend with other pass rushers like Dennis Gardeck and Devon Kennard as he competes for playing time. Sanders is extremely fast, but he must put it all together to succeed in the NFL.

Best of the Rest

Here are some names to keep your eye on as they could get increased playing time this year due to injuries or their own performance. If that happens, some of them have some high upside. Leki Fotu is a name to remember at DT/NT. Victor Dimukeje is another strong pass-rusher that might start Week 1. The same goes for Dennis Gardeck, who has proven to be a good pass-rusher/run-stopper on the edge. One last name is Michael Dogbe, who could take over for Watt if he gets hurt.

Linebackers

Isaiah Simmons

Simmons will be playing as a linebacker and safety. This will result in a newly created “star backer” position. “Star backer” is a linebacker/safety hybrid role. This allows Isaiah to line up a little deeper, which helps him. He has struggled to play close to the line of scrimmage. The downside is the deeper he plays, the more it affects his IDP production. The saving grace is that Simmons will be an every-down player.

This role puts Simmons back into the same kind of role he had at Clemson. That role allowed him to succeed and got him drafted eighth overall. Simmons is a thinner, faster, more athletic player (than prior linebackers) with tremendous range and elite cover skills, and he often makes a big play. Don’t be surprised if he has a bunch of IMPACT plays that are huge in IDP scoring. While Simmons only had 70 solos and 35 assisted tackles, he still impressed in 2021. Simmons had 1.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and an interception. Simmons will line up as the weak inside backer. This allows him to do everything he does best.

The Cardinals are finally scheming Simmons to where he can do his absolute best. This means more IDP points over the future despite him being an LB2 this year. He’s well worth the buy in IDP as he enters his age-24 season. His price is lower than a year ago. Buy now.

Zaven Collins

The Arizona Cardinals’ defense sucked at defending the run, so they selected an elite run defender in LB Collins in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Collins was terrific at Tulsa before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Collins is 6’4” and 260 lbs., which is enormous compared to MIKE linebackers.

In his three-year career at Tulsa, Collins delivered a very impressive 236 tackles (139 solos), 25 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, eight passes defended, five interceptions, two touchdowns, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Collins can stay on the field for all three downs. He’s the perfect complement to the slender and quicker Simmons. However, Collins is plenty fast with a 4.56 40 at his combine.

Collins has a physical and strong presence with the ability to take on linemen, move around, get through blocks in tight spots, and get after the passer on the blitz. He has the versatility to line up on the edge and get you a sack. He’s able to cover tight ends or running backs well. He understands how to read plays. Collins has a ton of upside. He reminds me of an even better Blake Martinez.

As a rookie for the Cardinals, Collins had a rough year. Collins ended up having more special teams snaps than defensive snaps. He had three pass deflections, 13 solo tackles, 12 assists, and one tackle for loss. Not great numbers, but that will change in 2022.

He only played 50% or more snaps twice. From Week 8 on, his highest snap rate was 31%. This is likely due to a shoulder injury and the team relying more on Hicks and Simmons. The team wanted to repeat what happened with Simmons. Sit the first year, then explode in his second year.

Collins has looked more comfortable and confident this preseason. He is ready to claim the 116 tackles that Hicks left behind. Collins is vastly underrated and a must-have before breaking out this year. He could put up LB1 numbers with his every down role. He should at least be a 75-90% down player. Please don’t wait for him to break out, go ahead and grab him now before it’s too late. He will even snag you some sacks.

Nick Vigil

Vigil has been a starter multiple times over his six-year career. If Simmons or Collins gets hurt, Vigil immediately is the starter. He’ll give you LB3 numbers every week with some big weeks. He has a penchant for making impact plays, especially interceptions. Don’t be surprised if Vigil is a three-down linebacker some weeks if he plays.

Last year, he proved he can rack up the points and tackles. He had 45 solos and 40 assisted tackles, with four tackles for a loss, three quarterback hits, and a sack. He added in a pass deflection and an interception return for a touchdown. He’s a good depth player to snag off waivers for this year.

Best of the Rest

Keep your eyes peeled for Tanner Vallejo and Chandler Wooten. They both are capable of playing multiple downs at linebacker should injuries occur. They are deep sleepers, but one of them could emerge as a starter next year.

Defensive Backs

Budda Baker

Baker finished 2020 as the DB2 overall but dropped to DB12 in 2021. Baker has three 80.0-plus PFF run-defense grades in his first five seasons. That’s pretty good if I know anything about IDP fantasy football. Expect him to rebound somewhat in 2022 despite the presence of Thompson and Simmons. Baker’s playing to win games and will do whatever it takes.

Baker is coming into his sixth year on the Cardinals’ defense. Despite being 5′10″ and 195 lbs., Baker wracks up the tackles and beats up on ball carriers. The man with one of the best names in football has had at least 98 tackles four years in a row. He has had at least 58 solo tackles every year. Last year, Baker was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the second year. He had three interceptions, seven passes defended, two sacks, a fumble recovery, and started all 17 games. He added in 98 total tackles – 63 solos and 35 assisted – and had six tackles for loss with three quarterback hits.

Thanks to Simmons and Collins, it will be hard for Baker to return to wracking up 120 or so tackles. They cut down too many runners at the second level. This prevents Baker from demolishing ball carriers. He will have plenty of chances to make impact plays that raise his IDP scoring. Also, Thompson playing more of the box safety eats up potential tackles.

This is due to the Cardinals using Baker as more of a free safety hybrid. While being in the box plenty, Baker will still rush the passer more than other safeties. Yet, he’s often asked to cover wide receivers and play deep. This could lead to more interceptions like in 2021, but it hurts his tackle numbers.

Baker is a win-now player entering his age-26 season. While he will help you win, if you have depth at DB, consider selling him. You could get a truckload of value if you were to sell him now. I’m not sure he will return to being a top-3 safety in the IDP world. Yet, he’s being valued as such. It’s always wise to sell players high, especially if you have the depth or a more significant need elsewhere. Regardless, expect another DB1 from Sir Budda Baker.

Jalen Thompson

Thompson is a box safety, so he’s closer to the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t go out into coverage as much but knows how to cover players. That’s evident by his three interceptions, and seven passes defended in 2021. He led the team in tackles with 121 combined tackles. 79 were solo, while 42 were assisted. He led out hits on quarterbacks twice with three tackles for loss. He was an absolute star for the Cardinals last year.

Thompson was second among all defensive backs in total tackles with 121. Across all IDP positions, he was 20th in total tackles. According to PFF, Thompson ranked 12th in defensive stop % and tied as the DB5 in defensive stops against the run. With Budda playing more free safety, Thompson’s IDP value will remain strong. He’s definitely worth a late first-round/high second-round pick in IDP dynasty if you need an excellent DB. He’s a win-now player this year and for the future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again lead the Cardinals in tackles.

It looks like Thompson will wear the green dot and call the defensive plays for the Arizona Cardinals’ defense.  Thompson will have another great year, but it will be hard to repeat his 121 tackle season in 2021 with Collins, Simmons, and Baker to fight for tackles with. Either way, the time to buy Thompson is now. He’s just getting started in what will be his third healthy season.

Byron Murphy

Murphy is a slot cornerback who can make plenty of tackles. He’s also got a nose for the football, with four interceptions last year. He added in 12 passes defended and a forced fumble with a fumble recovery. He had a half sack with 49 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, and a quarterback hit. Murphy is in a contract year, so you can expect him to play at his best. He’s a solid DB4. He can be had off waivers, most likely. If your league has a CB position, then he’s a must-have. Otherwise, he’s pure injury protection and depth.

Best of the Rest

Marco Wilson is an excellent tackling cornerback though he’ll have to improve his coverage to stay on the field. He does have potential, as does Antonio Hamilton, who’s making waves at camp. They both could break out if they can secure starting jobs. Deionte Thompson and Charles Washington have DB flex play potential if either starts in case of injury to Jalen or Budda. They are merely waiver dart throws later in the season.

Summary

The Arizona Cardinals will be relying on some key breakout years from big-name draft picks like Simmons, Collins, and Murphy. If they can deliver, then this defense has a chance to be among the best in the NFL. JJ Watt and Markus Golden must stay healthy and perform for this team to have a shot at being the best as well. In IDP, you expect great seasons from Baker and Thompson but perhaps buy low on some underperforming young guys. There’s a good shot they break out with increased playing time. Keep an eye on Vigil; if Simmons plays more of a DB role, then Vigil is a strong LB3/4. This team is a mixed bag on defense, but they have the pieces to be good up to the players. Watch out for the Arizona Cardinals this year.

Do you want to become the best dynasty player you can be? Be sure to use my promo code “Darth” for 15% OFF your subscription to Dynasty Nerds! It makes it only three dollars or so! Connect with me on Twitter @DarthDbacks. I love to talk football, baseball, movies, shows, Star Wars, Marvel, and interact with the fantasy football community. For more articles of mine, click here.

As always, May the Force be with You…

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