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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Arizona Cardinals

The first in a series of team fantasy analysis begins with the Arizona Cardinals. @TubaDeus delves into what can we expect in 2021.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Arizona Cardinals

Last Year’s Accuracy
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1040425 (40.9%)615 (59.1%)45 (7.3%)400 (70.2%)105 (18.4%)45 (7.9%)
2020 Stats1083479 (44.2%)604 (55.8%)29 (4.8%)378 (65.7%)99 (17.2%)68 (11.8%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
Coaching Changes

Yeah, maybe Arizona missed the playoffs again. But they only missed on a tiebreaker while ranking in the top half of the league in points and yards on both offense and defense. Across-the-board improvement is a great way to keep your job, which is exactly what head coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph are doing. Interestingly Kliff is still not hiring an offensive coordinator. He will retain the role himself in addition to his head coaching duties in 2021.

Arizona Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury as head coach
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports
Coaching History

There’s the play volume we expected from the second fastest offense in the NFL. The relatively tame 1000 plays from the 2019 edition of the Cardinals was placed firmly in the rearview mirror thanks mostly to a defense that went from allowing the most plays per drive in 2019 to being only below average in 2020. Amazing what getting the defense off the field every now and then can do for the offense.

And of course, the offense can help themselves by keeping opposing defenses guessing. I had noted two years ago that despite operating an air raid offense at Texas Tech Kliff’s offense actually ran the ball at a pretty high rate. Specifically, he had started his six year tenure around a 60/40 pass-run ratio and slowly gravitated toward a 55/45 ratio by the time he left. Safe to say he accelerated that timeline by a bit at the pro level. After pretty much nailing the 60/40 ratio in 2019, Kliff’s offense dove headfirst into becoming a more balanced unit by landing at a well-below-average 55.8% pass rate in 2020 (although I’m sure Kyler Murray’s running had something to do with that). That more balanced attack, along with some significant improvement along the offensive line, led to a massive 3.5% reduction in sack rate.

Despite all the macro-level changes to offensive totals, the positional balance stayed pretty much the same between 2019 and 2020. The tight end group saw the largest magnitude change with a mere 1.7% increase in target share. Interestingly, the wide receiver target share dropped by 0.9% despite the addition of superstar DeAndre Hopkins. Still, while it is an odd statistic it doesn’t represent much actual movement. Through two seasons at the pro level, Kliff’s offense has hovered right around a 66% target share for the wideouts, an 18% share for the running backs, and an 11% share for the tight ends.

Looking Ahead
Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald: Retirement odds skyrocket for WR
Cheryl Evans/Arizona Republic

You’d think that after taking a highly regarded wide receiver in the 2nd round of the draft (Rondale Moore) and signing another highly regarded receiver (A.J. Green) that the target shares might actually shift more toward the wideouts this year. However, the fanfare of adding two new members to the receiving corps has overshadowed the holes they’re filling. Moore will most likely just edge out one of the other diminutive 2nd round wide receivers in Arizona (Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella) while A.J. Green slides into the role likely vacated by Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, the only thing that might shift positional target shares at all is the departure of lead receiving tight end Dan Arnold. It’s not exactly a huge role to fill given how little the Arizona tight ends were targeted, but it’s still something.

Of course, what the incoming free agent and draft class lack in new offensive weaponry they more than make up for in defensive power. Similar investment last year was enough to move the Cardinals’ defense from “worst in the league” to “just below average”, which in turn led to a massive spike in total offensive plays. With the new blood being brought in and a full year of experience for last year’s rookies, perhaps this defense could truly make the jump to being above average. A defense capable of holding leads could also result in a more run-heavy offense, though it’s worth noting that the Arizona “air raid” offense was already on the run-heavy side last year.

It’s also worth noting the continued improvement along the offensive line along with quarterback Kyler Murray’s improvement at not being his own worst enemy. The growth of both were already partially responsible for the meteoric rise in total offensive plays for Arizona between 2019 and 2020 so it’s unlikely that they will be able to help push it much further. However, it is fair to say that maintaining that growth should help establish a new floor for this offense.

2021 Projections
Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1083479 (44.2%)604 (55.8%)29 (4.8%)378 (65.7%)99 (17.2%)68 (11.8%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1163509 (43.8%)654 (56.2%)33 (5.0%)419 (67.5%)112 (18.0%)60 (9.7%)

Next Entry: Atlanta Falcons

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

EDIT: Updated projections for 17 game schedule.

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