Juggernaut Index, No. 16: Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson remain top fantasy birds

Larry Fitzgerald, still a fantasy difference maker entering his fifteenth NFL season. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Larry Fitzgerald, still a fantasy difference maker entering his fifteenth NFL season. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

For a few years, way back in the day, Larry Fitzgerald had the experience of catching passes from Kurt Warner, a Hall of Fame quarterback. So it’s not as if Fitz has never enjoyed the benefits of elite play at the quarterback position. But for long stretches of his career, he’s been a brilliant receiver tied to brutal passers.

Here’s a partial list of QBs who’ve thrown touchdown passes to Fitzgerald: Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Richard Bartel, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Brian St. Pierre, Matt Leinart, Shaun King and John Navarre. That list reads like a rundown of your worst fantasy waiver wire decisions.

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Whenever Fitzgerald has been paired with a functional-to-great QB, he’s been unstoppable. He’s led the league in receptions twice and reached the 100-catch plateau five times, including each of the last three seasons (at ages 32-34). Fitzgerald currently ranks third in NFL history in both receptions and receiving yards, and will almost certainly finish his career second only to Jerry Rice in both categories. He masterfully transitioned to the slot after dominating outside. He’s an excellent run-blocker, too. Simply put, he’s as good as it gets at his position, in all aspects. He’s a filthy steal at his average draft position in standard fantasy leagues (50.7, WR22).

This year, Fitzgerald will very likely add two names to the long list of quarterbacks who’ve connected with him for touchdowns. We should assume Sam Bradford will start the season behind center for Arizona, but, at some point, a talented rookie should take the controls of this team’s offense.

Expect the Josh Rosen era to begin soon

Again, Bradford is expected to open as the Cardinals’ starting QB. He’s coming off a year in which he played just one full game — he was outstanding against New Orleans (346-3-0) — before knee issues ended his season. It was of course not the first time in his career that he’s encountered knee problems and/or missed an extended period of time. Bradford entered camp feeling as if he’d “made significant steps since OTAs” and claiming his knee was “the best it’s felt since the injury.” That’s sorta-good news, but it’s not quite the same as saying he’s 100 percent. But hey, he’s practicing.

Bradford has clearly made a strong positive impression on Rosen:

“I think people forget how good [Bradford] is. He’s unbelievable,” the rookie quarterback said.

“The ball just doesn’t touch the ground,” [Rosen] said. “He’s very quick and light on his feet in the pocket. The ball goes where it needs to go. It’s his first year in this offense, too, and it seems like it’s his fourth.”

Bradford, at his best, is an exceptionally accurate passer — he held the single-season record for completion percentage for a year, before Drew Brees reclaimed it in 2017. However, he’s produced only one season as even a top-16 fantasy quarterback, so he’s been no great asset in our game. More significantly, Bradford has not demonstrated the ability to remain healthy and available. He feels like a short-term placeholder for this team. Bradford is a nice enough player when he’s right, but Rosen was drafted tenth overall as a potential franchise QB. It will be a major surprise if the rookie isn’t starting for the Cards by November, if not earlier.

Eventually, Josh Rosen should claim the starter’s role. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Eventually, Josh Rosen should claim the starter’s role. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Rosen was widely regarded as the most NFL-ready prospect in this year’s draft class following three promising seasons at UCLA. His game tape is loaded with advanced throws; he’s quick to process and has the ability to manipulate defenders. The biggest questions raised about him relate to durability (which is fair) and his millenial-ish need to be challenged (which is plainly absurd). Arm strength was considered a small concern, but then Rosen hit 59 mph at the combine, just three ticks below Josh Allen. He’s a serious talent who’s ready to play, and it’s hard to believe he won’t see the field in his first season.

Various Arizona veterans were impressed by the rookie almost immediately, for what it’s worth:

“Josh is special,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “For him to come in the week after he got drafted and be able to put guys in position, being able to make plays, those tight throws, those tight window throws, those seam throws. When a guy coming in from college is able to make those throws right off of getting drafted, that goes to show he’s NFL ready. … I was definitely very impressed by him running the hurry-up offense the first week. I’ve never seen rookies do that before. The guy, you can tell he’s a player for sure and I’m definitely happy that we finally found someone like him in the draft.”

Mike McCoy, Arizona’s new offensive coordinator, seems plenty pleased with Rosen as well. The next negative report on Rosen’s progress will be the first. Dynasty leaguers, you should be interested. Rosen is a strong candidate to have streaming value in redraft leagues by the end of the season.

Beyond Fitzgerald, Arizona’s receiving corps is thin

Fantasy owners in redraft leagues of standard size can probably just skip down to the next subhead. After Fitz, this team’s receivers and tight ends are not a hyper-talented group. The most interesting name on the depth chart is probably Brice Butler, a size/speed combo player (6-foot-3) who flashed potential during his three seasons in Dallas. For reasons unknown, he averaged just 2.25 targets per game with the Cowboys. Butler managed to catch 15 of his 23 chances last year, an excellent catch-rate for a player who averaged 21.1 yards per reception. He’s fun. Deep leaguers should give him a shot.

If you’re a dynasty owner, keep Christian Kirk’s name in mind as a flier. The second-round rookie from Texas A&M had a terrific three-year collegiate career, topping 900 receiving yards in every season and scoring a ridiculous seven touchdowns in the return game. He didn’t wow anyone at the combine, but his resume is otherwise solid. He figures to be the Cardinals’ future slot receiver, whenever Fitzgerald decides to retire.

Vertical threat J.J. Nelson remains in the team picture and second-year receiver Chad Williams is battling for snaps. Neither needs to be drafted. Young tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has some sleeper appeal, but he also has a legal entanglement that needs to be monitored. Given the depth at tight end in 2018, he’s really only on the radar in mega-leagues.

Arizona’s No. 2 receiver, of course, is the team’s featured running back.

David Johnson is back, ready for volume. (AP Photo/Matt York)
David Johnson is back, ready for volume. (AP Photo/Matt York)

David Johnson, still awesome

Johnson was eying a 1000/1000 season last year, you might recall, before a wrist injury brought an abrupt end to the pursuit after just one game. He’s back, fully recovered from the injury, and his individual goals don’t seem modest. We shouldn’t need to remind you that Johnson led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2118) and touchdowns (20) just two seasons ago, catching 80 passes along the way. He’s fantastic, an ideal back for the modern game. If you can land him with the fourth overall pick in any format, it’s a huge win.

Johnson’s handcuff appears to be fourth-round rookie Chase Edmonds, a back who’s dazzled coaches throughout the offseason. He’s smallish (5-foot-9), but he was enormously productive in his four-year career at Fordham (74 TDs). Edmonds is shifty and versatile, a capable receiving threat who deserves our attention. If DJ misses time, Edmonds has must-start potential.

Arizona’s defense has a few upper-tier play-makers, notably Peterson and Chandler Jones, so it’s a group that offers streaming potential. The division schedule is dicey, but September matchups at home with Chicago and Seattle seem like friendly spots. You may not own this D/ST all year, but the unit is approved for use.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 20.7 (20th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 245.3 (9)
Rush YPG – 104.0 (21)
Yards per play – 5.3 (16)
Plays per game – 66.1 (8)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona

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