With the fantasy football draft season right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a breakdown on the fantasy-relevant players on every team, division by division. You can check out the previous columns here:
This column will cover the Cardinals and the Rams, two very popular sleeper teams. They both have a host of popular, albeit controversial fantasy football players.
QB: Carson Palmer was another NFC West quarterback who topped plenty of sleeper lists last year. He left much to be desired, finishing as the 17th ranked quarterback in fantasy football. There are reasons to be optimistic again for this season.
Palmer was actually surprisingly consistent last year after a terrible start to the season, as after week five, he scored at least 10 fantasy points in every week but week 16, against the Seahawks. He also started to air it out more as the season went on and gained experience in the Bruce Arians offense.
If you’re looking to back up a risky quarterback like RGIII, Palmer should give you a nice mix of value, upside and consistency. Just find someone else to start when he’s playing the Seahawks.
RB: The Cardinal’s backfield was a constant source of consternation for fantasy owners last year. The Cardinals gave more than 200 carries to the slow, plodding, Rashard Mendenhall instead of to the promising, explosive Andre Ellington. Luckily, Mendenhall has retired and the Cardinals have promised to feed Ellington the ball.
It’s best to temper expectations for Ellington this season. We’ve seen running backs struggle in their sophomore campaigns, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will give him more than roughly 14 carries per game in a best case scenario. Historically, running backs similar in size to Ellington have no escaped the injury bug for long, so expect the Cardinals to continue to monitor his workload. The said, he’s a high-end RB2 for me, and he’s a safer bet for consistent production than players like Doug Martin or C.J. Spiller.
Jonathon Dwyer is currently the handcuff to Ellington, but that could easily change in training camp. If you are targeting Ellington, make sure to pay attention to the backup position battle. You might just need a replacement at some point in the season.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald is still often listed as a strong WR2 by most analysts, and assertion I think is mostly wishful thinking. Fitzgerald caught 10 touchdowns and still only finished as the 16th best wide receiver in fantasy football last season. I think the 16th best wide receiver is Fitzgerald’s ceiling, and i think he’s far more likely to finish as a decent flex player. Michael Floyd on the other hand, is a tantalizing fantasy prospect.
Floyd is a former 1st round pick who has improved in his first two years in the league. Floyd was one of the best deep threats in the league last season and it’s a safe bet that he commands a more diverse array of targets this season. I think Floyd can at least match Fitzgerald’s numbers from last year, making him a very solid WR2. Luckily, you can still get him at Flex player value. He’s one of my favorite guys in fantasy football this year.
If you are in a SUPER deep league, John Brown might be worth a look. He figures to take over the T.Y. Hilton role in the Cardinals offense, and he could be a nice replacement for bye weeks if he is used like Hilton.
D/ST: The Cardinals defense should be a top fantasy defense this year. They can stop the run as good as anyone, and their secondary should be improved with the development of Patrick Peterson, the return of Tyrann Mathieu and the addition of Antonio Cromartie. Expect them to be one of the best defenses in fantasy football this year.
St. Louis Rams
QB: Pundits can not agree on what to think about Sam Bradford. Is Bradford an above-average, young quarterback who has never had the tools or the coaching to succeed, or is he an overrated bust who has been given too many chances? Or, somewhat more likely, is he somewhere in between?
Regardless of what you think about Sam Bradford, it’s hard to imagine him being a useful fantasy quarterback next year. He plays in the toughest division in football, he still doesn’t have any reliable, proven wide receivers and it’s unlikely the Rams throw a whole lot this year. This season will likely be the best season of his career, but that’s not saying much. He’s a bye-week replacement, nothing more.
RB: Zac Stacy saved a lot of seasons last year when he took the league by a storm starting in week five. He tailed off a bit at the end, but he seems poised to improve on last year.
The Rams drafted offensive tackle Greg Robinson to be a run blocker at the guard position, and the offense should be at least a bit more explosive with the return of Bradford and the development of Tavon Austin. I think Stacy’s YPC will increase this year, and I’d be happy if he was my RB1. I have him ranked right around RB10.
The only threat to Stacy’s value is 3rd round draft pick Tre Mason. However, I’m not worried. Just because the Rams drafted him with a relatively high pick doesn’t mean they’re going to use him this year. Just ask Tavon Austin. If you draft Stacy, feel free to reach a round to get Mason, but otherwise he’s not a big threat.
WR: I drafted Tavon Austin in the 8th round last year. It didn’t go very well. Austin was barely used, only catching 40 passes over the course of the entire season. It can’t possibly be that bad again. Right?
Look, the Rams took Austin is the first round for a reason. He’s worth a late-round flier based on his play-making ability alone, but don’t count on him. No one else is really worth drafting in a standard league.
TE: Jared Cook was another popular Rams sleeper last season, and he disappointed almost as badly as Austin. There’s no reason to think anything will be different this year. I’m confident that you can find a better tight end elsewhere.
D/ST: The Rams have some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and their run-defense received a big boost in rookie Aaron Donald. This is one of the best defenses that will still be available in the later rounds. If you wait on defense, they are about as good as you’re going to get, and there’s some decent upside potential as well.
Thanks for reading, check back on Monday for the last division breakdown – The AFC West!