Instant riches? Why the Arizona Cardinals will be a fantasy football goldmine

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The intoxicating allure for gold has enraptured countries, kings and fortune hunters for centuries, driving ambition and fueling greed. Worshipped for its outward beauty, rareness, and versatility, its corruptible nature has forever impacted continents, reshaping societies and landscapes. Ancient Egyptians, Spanish conquistadors, westward prospectors, marauding pirates, rascally “Goonies,” Scrooge McDuck … many have ceaselessly sought the precious metal. Some have reaped a path to wealth. Others a path to ruin.

Still today, the passion to acquire it lives on.

Enveloped by the red-splashed rocks of the Superstition Mountains in south-central Arizona is Lost Dutchman’s State Park. It’s there, in the shadow of Weaver’s Needle, a vein of unimaginable riches is allegedly buried beneath the surrounding agave, saguaros, and jagged cliffs. The legend comes from an amalgamation of twisted tales ranging from a good doctor’s encounter with Apache protectors, the deathbed confession of Jacob Waltz and a U.S. soldier’s random discovery. Every year amateur adventurists, consumed by an infectious case of yellow fever, traverse the perilous Sonoran hoping to find truth to the stories. Most emerge unscathed. A few never return. All are empty-handed.

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The legend, you could say, remains undefeated.

Roughly 40 miles west from the infamous mine, another wellspring waits to be discovered. Follow the dotted line to the ‘X’ and you’ll reach Glendale. It’s there a trove of a different kind lives. Make the investment and handsome rewards are sure to follow.

The Arizona Cardinals are a fantasy goldmine.

Do you believe?

Here are four reasons why the Desert Birds are about to take flight:

System Innovation

Many have heard the term “Air Raid,” but few grasp its basic concepts. Not all versions are the same. Originator Hal Mumme’s foundation wasn’t photocopied by Washington St. head coach Mike Leach or current Arizona shot caller Kliff Kingsbury. Though the backbone is largely defined by spread formations and is predicated on high-percentage throws, each variation presents its own uniqueness.

Kingsbury’s primary tendency while at Texas Tech was pass first, run rarely. From 2016-2018 his offenses featured 10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs, 4 WRs) 60 percent of the time (NFL average in ‘18: 2%), clocking a 44.0% success rate within the alignment. Skyward focused, he called “pass” at a 65% clip in 2018 alone. His propensity for screens, slants, and short outs maintained a breakneck pace (86.8 plays per game form ‘16’-’18) and tethered defenders to oxygen tanks. It’s why he’s aiming for 90-95 plays per game — a whimsical goal, though 70-75 is believable. Overall, his Red Raider teams piled up the points despite having minimal NFL-level talent. Everyone is familiar with Patrick Mahomes, but Keke Coutee, Jakeem Grant, and DeAndre Washington were the only other Tech players of note to graduate to the next level.

GLENDALE, AZ - JULY 25:  Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) discuss a play during the Arizona Cardinals training camp on July 25, 2019 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are a dynamic duo who should bring prosperity to Fantasyland this season. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Trench spacing is one of the biggest differentiators in the Air Raid, including Kingsbury’s version. Offensive linemen crouch further apart compared to traditional compact deployments. This fosters lane creation for pass and run plays, which is exactly what the Cards need. Arizona’s offensive line, which ranked dead last in multiple efficiency categories, was a dumpster fire last year. Josh Rosen, placed under duress on 40.4% of his dropbacks, was a human punching bag. Upgraded with veterans this offseason, the line is more experienced and is expected to provide enough cover for rookie Kyler Murray to deliver quick strikes. Hey, after last year’s dungeon dwelling effort it only has one direction to go.

Additionally, the offensive overhaul should resurrect David Johnson. Suppressed by the unimaginative play-calling of Mike McCoy and Byron Leftwich, he failed to meet top-five expectations, leaving his investors bitter and resentful. Though he somehow scraped together the ninth-most valuable output at the RB position in .5 PPR leagues, his precipitous declines in yards after contact (2.2; RB65) and broken tackle percentage (11.7; RB68) explain why many refuse to spend a top-seven pick on him this year. But unlike last season, he won’t routinely barrel into overloaded fronts (24.0 stack% in’18) nor be overlooked as a receiver.

Murray’s dual-threat abilities combined with the increased field space will, as DJ himself put it, allow the rusher to be more creative and effective. If everything clicks, his goal of joining Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig in the ultra-exclusive 1,000/1,000 (rush/receiving yards) club won’t be a pipe dream. Given Ezekiel Elliott’s ongoing contract dispute, it’s easy to group Johnson with Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara among the position’s elite.

Player Familiarity

Rosen was to Kingsbury’s Cardinals what Andrew Garfield was to the Spider-Man franchise, a comically bad fit (Tom Holland all the way). In shotgun, he finished at or near the bottom in yards per attempt and success rate among eligible QBs. Once Murray became an option, Rosen’s jettisoning was a necessity. Murray and Kingsbury go together like Guy Fieri and the Oakland Raiders, a perfect pairing. When it comes to system comprehension, the passer is a “rookie” in name only. As Larry Fitzgerald noted earlier this summer, Murray is the professor in the room, imparting his wisdom and understanding on his teammates. It’s why the coaching staff is completely comfortable giving the first-year QB audible power.

More importantly, Murray is wonderfully skilled. Last year with Oklahoma, the Heisman winner ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every completion percentage category tracked among FBS passers. Most mouthwatering, whether on designed or opportunistic runs, he races past defenders. In other words, his floor is remarkably high. It would be no surprise if he similarly stormed the league as RGIII did in 2012. Close to 3,800 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, and 25 total touchdowns are achievable. And, no, you shouldn’t be overly concerned about him wearing a full-body cast at some point this year. Similar to Russell Wilson, the first-round MLB pick knows how to slide. People who believe he’s overpriced at his 117.3 ADP (QB11) are entirely naive.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Equally underpriced, Christian Kirk, like Murray, possesses a deep Air Raid knowledge base. While at Texas A&M, the wide receiver thrived in a similar setup. High achieving in scoring squalor last year as a rookie, he posted a 69.7% success rate versus man and 82.1% success rate versus zone coverages according to #ReceptionPerception. His system acumen, sharp route-running, and downfield explosiveness could elevate him into the catbird seat among Arizona’s wideouts. Recall, he was WR98 in catchable target percentage last fall. On a projected 22-23% target share, he could reach the position’s top-20 with Murray chucking bull’s eyes in his direction.

Ease of Schedule

Whether using Sharp Football, FF Toolbox or Pro Football Focus projections as a guide, the Cardinals boast one of the most fantasy friendly schedules in the virtual game, whether for QBs, RBs or WRs. They rank top-10 across the board. Opening matchups at Baltimore (Week 2), Carolina (Week 3) and Seattle (Week 4) will be no walk in the park, but due to the mystery surrounding the offense, it may take weeks or months for opposing defensive coordinators to devise ways to contain it.

Defensive Shortcomings

On paper, the Cards are caged parakeets on defense. According to PFF, they project outside the top-25 in run defense (No. 30), pass rush D (No. 28) and linebacker play (No. 29). Teams should be able to skewer them in the trenches and vertically across the middle.

Clearly, Arizona’s defensive strength resides in its secondary, though not without concern. Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games of the regular season, meaning greenhorn Byron Murphy gets thrown to the wolves against the Lions, Ravens, Panthers, Seahawks, Bengals, and Falcons. Equally worrisome, offseason acquisition Robert Alford was atrocious with Atlanta last season, surrendering a 138.9 passer rating and 1.53 yards per snap to his assignments. Not to be outdone, safety Budda Baker yielded a 124.2 passer rating and 1.63 yards per snap. D.J. Swearinger is an enforcer (67.1 passer rating, 0.69 yds/snap allowed in ‘18), but, again, without their All-Pro for 46.2% of the regular season, the Cards will be quite vulnerable early on.

In the end, negative game scripts will likely be frequent, thrusting Murray into high-volume situations, a major plus for fantasy purposes. Not to be overlooked, Larry Fitzgerald (88.0 ADP, WR39) and rookie noisemaker KeeSean Johnson (269.8, WR92), who by all accounts has greatly outperformed Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler in training camp, could, similar to Kirk, net handsome target shares. Both remain undervalued at their respective price points. The multidimensional David Johnson, too, will be very active in the pass game. Roughly 75-85 catches are likely for the RB.

Bottom line: With so many affordable options on the Arizona roster, drafters who invest are bound to strike it rich.

It’s no myth. An immense gold deposit does exist in the desert.

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise

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