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With Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer set to bring competence back to the Cardinals offense, suddenly Arizona won’t be a complete toxic fantasy debacle. Maybe.

The Housekeeping

Notable additions: Rashard Mendenhall, Eric Winston

Notable draft picks: Jonathan Cooper, Stephan Taylor, Andre Ellington

The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)

Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: 29.0): I feel like we shouldn’t even look at any numbers associated with Fitzgerald’s 2012 season. They should be set on fire, and then we’ll douse the fire with a hose, then start it up again, and repeat that process several times. Fitz took his beating like the large and gracious man that he is, pointing the finger at himself several times throughout the year. But after Kevin Kolb went down he was left to catch dead ducks from Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton.

Those three combined for a completion percentage of 53.6, while throwing 18 interceptions to just three touchdowns. I didn’t make any of that up, and here’s how much that trio pummeled Fitzgerald into submission:

  • Receiving yards: down by 643 yards from the previous season, and the total (798) was only 18 yards shy of being the lowest single-season output of his career.
  • Yards per game: down by 38.3
  • Yards per catch: down by 6.4

Never fear, friends, because world savior Carson Palmer is here, along with Bruce Arians and his many vertical lines.

I can’t accurately and honestly project Fitzgerald to return to being the Fitzgerald of old immediately under a new scheme that’s much better suited for his speed and leaping ability, and under a quarterback who may be much less than great and somewhere around good, though being competent is a significant improvement. At his peak (like, say, just a year ago) Fitzgerald would push or exceed 1,400 receiving yards, and he’s had four double-digit touchdown years.

I can say with great confidence, however, that the Fitzgerald we saw last year was a mirage of pain due to circumstances far beyond his control, and the amateurs among us who are still clinging to that image may help to lower his ADP at least slightly. Toss in renewed respect in the backfield as well with Rashard Mendenhall, and hope is high.

You’re wise to wait a little on wide receivers, because with the position so deep, there’s plenty of value late. However, if you’re inclined to target your top wideout immediately after drafting two running backs, there’s a good chance Fitzgerald could be available early in the third. And that’s a beautiful thing.

The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)

Rashard Mendenhall (ADP: 60.5): Much like Fitzgerald, Mendenhall’s 2012 season needs to be forgotten and run over with a tank several times. While Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson tried to redefine our views of the human body, Mendenhall was busy reminding us what a more normal ACL tear recovery looks like for running backs. The norm still lies somewhere between those two extremes.

I’ll readily admit that most predictions you see in this space are educated guesses based on a lot of reading and consuming football for many hours daily, because predicting stuff is hard. However, it’s difficult to even get that far with Mendenhall. He’s coming off a white-washed season, but he’s only 26, and should be able to rebound well. But although he averaged 1,103 rushing yards per season with nine touchdowns between 2009 and 2011, he did that while running behind a much better offensive line in Pittsburgh. Jonathan Cooper and Eric Winston have been added, but the core elements of a Cardinals line that gave up 58 sacks and paved the way for a whole 3.4 yards per carry remain.

Value is a wonderful thing, though. Even if you don’t believe in the O-line, or the connection between Mendenhall and Arians (Mendenhall played in Arians’ offense for all but one of his Pittsburgh seasons), you should ignore whatever that voice in your head is saying (especially if it tells you to burn things) and be overjoyed that you’re able to get a definitive starting running back around the 60th overall pick.

Michael Floyd: (ADP: 113.3): Floyd has been a subject in our Deep Sleeping series, in which we dream of only a universe with happy thoughts. So excuse me while I plagiarize myself and re-hash a bit of that here, while noting that Floyd could quickly ascend to become a highly affordable third fantasy wide receiver with Arians ready to showcase his complementary option.

The sample size with Floyd is small after his sparse usage during the first half of his rookie season (just 18 targets over his first seven games). But even with the pop warner parade at quarterback, signs of encouragement could be found. Most notably, Floyd’s 166 yards on eight catches during the season finale (an average of 20.8 per grab) against San Francisco. That came when he faced a secondary which finished tied for third in +20 yard receptions allowed, and Floyd had catches of 30, 37, and 53 yards.

Carson Palmer (ADP: 141.3): In a previous NFL life, Palmer was a back-to-back Pro Bowler (2005 and 2006), setting the standard for pocket passing. His release was quick, his instincts and field vision were sound, and his arm was deep. Now? Although overall his demise has been greatly exaggerated, only one of those things truly remains. Thankfully, it’s his deep arm, the one that matters most.

That’s what makes the Arians-Palmer union so intriguing, especially when they’re paired with two burners in Fitzgerald and Floyd. As I noted in that Floyd post last month, last year in Indianapolis Arians demonstrated both how much he enjoys asking his quarterback to throw, and how much those throws are distributed. Of Andrew Luck’s 647 pass attempts (fifth most in league), 65 of them went for 20 yards or more (10 percent of his overall completions, and he was second only to Brees in 20 yarders).

The opportunities for chunk yardage and scoring should come in abundance, and at his current ADP, Palmer joins the group of ideal targets for those who have attended late-round QB school.

The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)

Rob Housler (ADP: 169.8): Forget Jordan Cameron (kidding, don’t ever forget Jordan Cameron). Housler as a slumbering sleeper is so much more hipster right now.

Doing this preview has sent me down a memory lane of sorts, and I’ve been reminded that either out of boredom or the need to hurt myself, I frequently did some dangerous digging for fantasy value on the Cardinals’ depth chart this offseason. Long before Floyd was a super sleeper, Housler received the same treatment.

But shhhhhh. His ADP still barely exists, so the first rule about Rob Housler is we don’t talk about Rob Housler. Even despite the aforementioned quarterback calamity last year in Arizona, he was one of the few sources of hope, however faint it was. Housler finished 2012 with 437 receiving yards on 45 catches, after just 133 yards during his rookie season. During Arians’ time in Pittsburgh, Health Miller averaged 602.4 yards per season.

Andre Roberts (ADP: undrafted): Floyd needing some extra polish led to Roberts earning you some sleeper cash early last year, as he recorded two 100-yard games over the first half of the season. His production dwindled in the second half, though, a downward trend which should continue if Floyd emerges as expected.

But just like every receiver and, well, the Cards offense as a whole, there’s only so much we can read into 2012 digits due to the tears provided by brutal quarterback play. Roberts will still get plenty of looks in the slot, and if everything falls in place for Arians and Palmer, you could do worse for a desperate injury replacement or bye week flex play in deep leagues. You could do a lot better too, but them’s the breaks.

The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)

Ryan Williams (ADP: undrafted): If you drafted Mendenhall — a running back who just limped through a season — handcuffing his backup is pretty smart. But is Williams his backup? Stefan Taylor and Andre Ellington will challenge in camp. Keep an eye on this, if you’re inclined to care.

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