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NFL Team Preview: Can Kyler Murray finish as fantasy football's top-scoring quarterback?

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We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 16th-ranked Arizona Cardinals.

1. Kyler Murray finished as the second-highest scorer among fantasy quarterbacks last year, and he's ranked third this draft season. What needs to happen for Murray to finish as the No. 1 QB of 2021?

Liz: From carries per game to rushing yards to ground scores, Murray recorded top-four or better stats in numerous advanced rushing metrics. His numbers as a passer, however, were not as elite. Averaging under 35 pass attempts per game (QB7), 7.1 YPA (QB22), and a true completion percentage of 73.2% (QB22), Murray improved in plenty of passing categories. But his deep ball completion percentage decreased slightly (to 40% from 44.3%) on the same number of attempts (70). With Nuk on board for a second effort, and the addition of rookie speedster Rondale Moore, Murray could find more vertical success … and lead the position as a result.

Dalton: He’d have to improve quite a bit as a passer to finish ahead of Mahomes, Prescott, Allen, and Jackson. Murray has proven to be a great runner, which helps in fantasy a ton, but he got just 6.6 YPA over the second half of last season. It’s possible his injury was solely to blame, and Murray is young enough to still make a leap, but it would have to be drastic to surpass those other four. 

Matt: Honestly, we’d just be looking for him to break right on the variance scale. Murray is the second-most dangerous and productive runner in the NFL after Lamar Jackson. He can have a special season as a pure rusher at any point in his prime.

Then, we’d just be looking for him to have a remarkably efficient season as a passer.

Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals
Passing-game improvements are the one thing holding Kyler Murray back from a top-fantasy QB finish. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I believe Murray has the pure arm talent to get it done. The Cardinals’ passing offense just hasn’t been able to consistently produce at a high level, especially in the vertical game. Murray’s 7.0 yards per attempt and 4.2 touchdown rate would need to take huge leaps to have the QB1 overall finish within his grasp. Given that the offense has an elite alpha receiver and improved blocking in front of Murray and some of the receiver spots around him, that is possible in 2021.

2. The Cardinals let Kenyan Drake walk, leaving the backfield for Chase Edmonds (RB rank 25) and new addition, James Conner (RB38). Do you have a preference between these two backs, can they coexist and produce quality fantasy outputs together, or is this a situation to fade?

Matt: Strongly prefer Chase Edmonds. He might never get the full workhorse role we’d want in fantasy and will consistently be vultured near the goal line — Edmonds has just four carries inside the 10-yard line over the last two years — however, he should own the passing-down role in this offense and has a strong path to upside if/when Conner gets hurt. I’m not overly bullish on Edmonds but he presents the best ceiling/floor combination in this backfield.

Dalton: I’ll mostly be avoiding that "RB dead zone" but certainly prefer Edmonds to Conner, who has to be considered one of the likeliest players to get injured in the league. Edmonds outplayed Kenyan Drake last season, and while it’s unclear if he can withstand a full workload, we might just find out whether he can. It would happen in a fast-paced and productive offense, giving Edmonds top-15 fantasy RB upside. He ran the sixth-most routes and saw the sixth-most targets among running backs as a part-time player last year.

Liz: Per Sports Injury Predictor, James Conner has an 88 percent chance of injury in 2021 and is expected to miss three games. Having yet to stay on the field for a full slate of games over his four-year career, I’d say that’s a conservative estimate.

Meanwhile, Edmonds has a pair of frustratingly fresh legs, averaging around six totes per contest in back-to-back seasons. But his work as a pass-catcher (top-seven in receptions and receiving yards in 2020) in tandem with his experience in Kliff’s scheme gives him an edge over Conner. The upside is obvious, making Edmunds an intriguing RB3 target in PPR-friendly formats.

3. DeAndre Hopkins will be the elder statesman near the top of the WR rankings when the season starts. Do Hopkins' proven consistency and safety make him the right pick in Round 2 or are you chasing the upside of one of the younger stars at the position?

Dalton: Hopkins is my WR9, which makes me firmly “down” on him compared to the industry. It’s more of a complement to the other intriguing young receivers with upside than any real knock on DHop, who’s approaching 30 years old and been a little light on touchdowns, having averaged 6.5 on a whopping 155 targets over the last two seasons. Give me the younger wideouts for sure.

Liz: Nuk has been at least a top-six fantasy contributor for four consecutive years. Despite moving teams in an abbreviated offseason, his numbers actually improved from 2019 to 2020. Not only was he the WR2 in receptions (115) and yards (1,407), but he additionally recorded the most catches over 40 yards (7) since his sophomore effort in 2014 as well as clearing 100 yards in seven games, which he only managed one other time in his career (2018).

At the very least, those numbers will hold steady as Murray gains reps and this duo continues to build rapport. Upside is great, but I want high odds of an ROI in the first few rounds. I’ll throw darts at younger receivers later in the draft. Hopkins is a rock-solid WR4/5 in my rankings.

Matt: DeAndre Hopkins presents a bankable 150-target floor, is right smack in the middle of the prime of his Hall of Fame career, and is tethered to a strong quarterback. I guess he’s the “boring” pick among the admittedly overwhelming amount of intriguing young players at the top of the position now. I get the excitement for all those players but make no mistake: Hopkins as the WR1 overall is in his range of outcomes. He’d just need the Cardinals’ entire offensive ecosystem to take a leap. With Murray still ascending, that’s very possible. Don’t overthink this one.

Arizona Cardinals projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Kyler Murray

RB: Chase Edmonds / James Conner

WR: DeAndre Hopkins / Christian Kirk / A.J. Green

TE: Maxx Williams

Arizona Cardinals O/U on 8.5 team win total from BetMGM

Dalton: UNDER. Questions remain about Murray’s ceiling as a (non-fantasy) quarterback and whether he’ll develop into a star, although Arizona did sport a top-10 defense in DVOA last season. Still, the Cardinals didn’t exactly load up during the draft (coming away with a linebacker and wide receiver over the first 135+ picks — after recently taking Andy Isabella over DK Metcalf), and Kliff Kingsbury has failed to live up to expectations. The real issue I have with this number is Arizona’s division, as the Rams and 49ers enter absolutely loaded, and Seattle is always one of the toughest places to play.

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

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