Juggernaut Index, No. 2: The Arizona Cardinals

Arizona's passing game is excellent, the lead back is unreal, the D is great and Bruce Arians is a badass. No weaknesses here. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Arizona’s passing game is excellent, the lead back is unreal, the D is top-shelf and Bruce Arians is a badass. No weaknesses here. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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At the risk of oversimplifying, all the Arizona Cardinals really need to do is keep Carson Palmer clean this season. That’s it. Keep him upright, keep him healthy, keep him fully operational. If Palmer can navigate his age-36 season successfully, then Arizona is going to win at least a dozen games and, in all likelihood, make a deep playoff run. This is simply a damn good team.

Palmer destroyed his career highs in passing yardage (4671), TDs (35), yards-per-attempt (8.7) and passer rating (104.6) last season while throwing just 11 interceptions, a low total by his standards. He was much sloppier in the postseason, you might recall, tossing a half-dozen picks over two games, including four against the Panthers in a blowout loss in the NFC title game. And he hasn’t exactly had a flawless preseason (3 INTs), which of course doesn’t matter a bit for a player with his history. The bottom line is that Palmer will be directing a Bruce Arians offense and throwing to the NFL’s best trio of high-usage receivers. He’s clearly in line for another 4500-30 season, assuming good health. Here’s hoping we don’t see Drew Stanton all year, except perhaps in garbage time.

Let’s wrap this man in bubble. Just keep him healthy for a full 16, please. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Let’s wrap this man in bubble. Just keep him healthy for a full 16, please. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Arizona produced the No. 9, No. 22 and No. 34 highest scoring wide receivers in standard fantasy leagues last year — and the guy who finished at 34 was actually the best of the bunch in the money weeks. Michael Floyd started the 2015 season slow due to injury, but he closed with five 100-yard games between Week 10 and Week 16. Floyd has one 1000-yard season on his resume, plus two others with over 800 yards. At 26, he’s well-positioned for a career year. I own all the shares, though, so you can’t have him.

For a guy coming off a 109-catch, 1215-yard season, Larry Fitzgerald isn’t really getting a great deal of respect from the fantasy community. He’s falling beyond WR30 in recent drafts, which is just insane. Fitz has dealt with some knee issues in August, but nothing that should scare you off. Did we all see his 176-yard playoff performance against Green Bay? I’ll take him if you don’t want him. Fitzgerald usually feasts when Palmer is healthy.

John Brown seems built specifically for Arians’ vertical offense, and he delivered on last summer’s hype, hauling in 65 balls for 1003 yards and seven spikes. Brown has been shelved for the past month while dealing with a concussion suffered in camp, but he was cleared ahead of the preseason finale. He’s in the mix for Week 1, and there’s no reason to expect anything less than a repeat of last year’s performance. He has some boom/bust to his game, but he’s tied to an offense that provides plenty of fantasy goodness. Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson would be receivers of interest in any other organization, but they’re just two more names on the depth chart with the Cards. Neither will enter the fantasy conversation unless an injury hits this receiving corps. And in case you’d forgotten, the tight end position is barely a rumor in Arizona, so neither Darren Fells nor Jermaine Gresham belongs on your cheat sheet.

Arizona’s running game was nearly as dominant as its passing attack a year ago, ranking eighth in the league in yardage (119.8 YPG). David Johnson was thoroughly hyped entering his rookie season, and he somehow managed to exceed all expectations. He was little more than a rotational player until the calendar flipped to December, yet he still managed to find the end-zone eight times in his first 11 games. When DJ claimed the featured backfield role in Week 13, following Chris Johnson’s leg injury, he was an utterly unstoppable fantasy machine. These were his scrimmage yardage totals in the four most important weeks of your fantasy season: 120, 123, 229, 127. He scored five touchdowns during that stretch and averaged 23.3 touches per game.

David Johnson celebrates another house call. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
David Johnson celebrates another house call. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Chris Johnson remains as a rotational back, and Andre Ellington will still make the occasional appearance (probably the right role for a player with his injury history). But David Johnson is unquestionably the lead runner in Arizona entering the season, and he’s one of the most gifted receiving backs in the game. He’s a first-half-of-the-first-round player in any format for me, and certainly in PPR. Cards GM Steve Keim dropped a Marshall Faulk comp when asked to evaluate Johnson during the offseason, and it didn’t seem so inappropriate. I’m sold.

The Cardinals defense has no shortage of play-makers at all levels — from Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones, to Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. Arizona finished among the top-scoring D/STs last season, and we’ve ranked ’em as an upper-tier unit in the year ahead. Jeff Janis may have ruined Justin Bethel during the postseason, but the rest of this D is legit. If you want to say it’s Super Bowl quality, I’m not about to argue.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 30.6 (2)
Pass YPG – 288.5 (2)
Rush YPG – 119.8 (8)
Yards per play – 6.2 (2)
Plays per game – 64.7 (15)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee, 27) Los Angeles, 26) Miami, 25) Detroit, 24) Chicago, 23) San Diego, 22) Minnesota, 21) Tampa Bay, 20) Atlanta, 19) Washington, 18) Buffalo, 17) Kansas City, 16) Oakland, 15) NY Giants, 14) Indianapolis, 13) Jacksonville, 12) Houston, 11) Denver, 10) NY Jets, 9) Dallas, 8) Cincinnati, 7) New England 6) New Orleans, 5) Seattle, 4) Carolina, 3) Green Bay, 2) Arizona