The Oakland Raiders traded quarterback Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals a couple weeks ago, and while the trade was seemingly met with a collective yawn in some football circles, the fantasy football community knew this deal would have some ramifications.
Now that Palmer has hooked up with perennial All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, both should be bumped up a few notches on offseason fantasy football cheat sheets.
Palmer is better than any quarterback Fitzgerald has had throwing to him over the past couple years, and Fitzgerald is more talented than any receiver Palmer has tossed to in a long while.
Here are my fantasy projections for Palmer and Fitzgerald in Arizona for 2013.
Palmer always had a no-name, rag-tag group of speedy, lanky, injury-prone receivers with Jose Offerman hands when he was with Oakland, so he deserves credit and possibly awards for throwing for 4,018 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.
Granted, the Raiders were trailing in most games that they played and had problems running the ball because Darren McFadden was out with his annual multi-game injury, so Palmer had to throw more than most quarterbacks.
Now Palmer gets to throw to Larry Fitzgerald, the best receiver he has thrown to since his days tossing to Chad Johnson when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Palmer also gets to quarterback a pass-first offensive system created by offensive guru Bruce Arians that is built around getting the ball downfield. Both of these things bode very well for Palmer’s fantasy value.
There are two obstacles that stand between Palmer having another 4,000-yard year, though. The first may or may not happen, and we will not know until the NFL draft takes place.
If Arizona drafts one of the highly touted quarterbacks coming out, such as West Virginia’s Geno Smith or Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, then Palmer might not last the full season as the starter. If Palmer falters or Arizona as a team falters, then it would be highly likely that he would be asked to sit so the rookie could get some reps and experience.
The other obstacle is Arizona’s offensive line, widely regarded last season as one of the most horrendous in the NFL. That fiasco of a fivesome was another reason why the running and passing attacks never clicked in 2012.
So the Cards need to upgrade that unit or else Palmer will have no time to throw and could end up getting hurt, yet so far all the Cardinals have done is sign Chilo Rachal, a semi-starting guard formerly with the Chicago Bears.
Fantasy Prediction: I think Palmer shapes up to be a decent No. 2 quarterback for fantasy teams this season. With Arians diagramming the offense and calling the plays, and with Fitzgerald as his go-to guy instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Palmer could post 4,100 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Just proceed with caution with Palmer. His hold on the starting spot could be shakier than Dwight Howard on a free throw line if Arizona drafts a quarterback in the first two rounds. Palmer will have no room for error or injury if there is a phenom waiting in the wings
Not many football players had their stats affected (and effectively ruined) by the teammates around them more than Fitzgerald in 2012. He had the Four Horsemen of subpar quarterbacks— Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer— throwing balls over his head, in the dirt, out of bounds and everywhere but in his hands.
Fitzgerald was also double-teamed constantly thanks to the other Arizona receivers not striking fear into secondaries and the Cardinals’ running backs not forcing safeties to play closer to the line of scrimmage. When you are the only offensive threat, you get more attention from defenses than the Kardashians get from paparazzi.
This caustic combination caused Fitzgerald to finish the season with 71 receptions for 798 yards and four touchdowns, the worst statistical season since his rookie campaign back in 2004. Instead of being the fantasy superstar capable of racking up 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns, Fitzgerald had less fantasy value than Lance Moore and Brian Hartline.
Now that Palmer is in the desert, Fitzgerald’s fantasy worth will likely be recharged. Arians will do everything in his power to make sure the ball ends up in Fitzgerald’s hands five-to-10 times per game, and Palmer has a better chance of making that happen than any of the XFL-caliber quarterbacks that attempted to last year.
It would be nice to see second-year man and former first-rounder Michael Floyd be more visible than a piece of clear glass in 2013. The highly-touted pass catcher only caught 31 passes over Arizona’s first 14 games last season until finally showing up to grab 14 passes over the final two weeks. An improved Floyd would limit the amount of double teams Fitzgerald would have to deal with.
Fantasy Prediction: Look for Fitzgerald to bounce back like a racquetball in 2013. I think he will fall short of his fifth 1,400-yard year, but I believe 90 receptions for 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns is entirely possible.