In the first article of this series, we took a look at recent breakout offenses. The team that made the second-biggest leap in PPG was the 2019 Cardinals. After scoring just 14.1 PPG in 2018 with Josh Rosen at quarterback, Arizona made a huge leap up to 22.6 PPG last season (an increase of more than 60%) with Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury running the offense. In fact, Arizona’s one-year improvement in PPG from 2018 to 2019 was the 3rd-highest in the last decade. The arrow is very much pointing up.
In terms of their scoring rank, the Cardinals went from 32nd in 2018 all the way up to 17th last season. Can they make the move from the middle of the pack to the top five in the league?
There is a good case to be made for a second-straight big leap and the Cardinals emerging as one of the highest-scoring teams in the NFL. Arizona has a couple of key indicators making them stand out as a potential breakout offense:
- A talented young quarterback with a still unknown ceiling.
- Upgraded skill position talent.
If Arizona makes another leap
Let’s lead off with what it would mean for your fantasy team if this offense breaks out. Here is a quick summary of the expected fantasy finish of the top Cardinals at different projected team points per game:
If the Cardinals do not improve at all on last seasons 23 PPG, the top pieces will disappoint at current ADP.
If the Cardinals make a modest improvement to 26 PPG, the top pieces of this offense will at least justify their current ADP. Kenyan Drake looks especially enticing at his current ADP if this offense makes even minor progress.
If Arizona makes another solid leap forward (30% more points), we would be looking at some potential fantasy league-winners with Kyler Murray as the overall QB1 and Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins finishing near the top of the positional rankings as well.
At the very bottom of this article, there is a tool providing player projections and estimated fantasy finishes at various levels of team scoring. Think about how much you believe the Cardinals offense can improve and adjust their PPG projection accordingly. Forming an actionable opinion on how much the Cardinals offense improves will be a big key to a successful 2020 fantasy season because the top pieces of the Arizona offense could be league-winners.
Kyler Murray and the second-year leap
Murray had a strong rookie season and there is good reason to believe he can do much more. The most important offenses in fantasy football each of the past three years were led by second-year starters who made huge leaps after rookie seasons that were less impressive than what Murray accomplished in 2019.
Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes II both won the MVP in their 2nd year.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 10, 2020
"Lamar is still on pace with Mahomes so when he signs that contract a year plus later it’s going to be the same if not more." — @MarcellusWileypic.twitter.com/xXpIvTgBGz
We have seen these offenses led by second-year quarterbacks take the NFL by storm and tip the balance in fantasy leagues. Everyone should be open to the possibility that Murray makes a similar leap in his second season.
Second-year quarterback stars
Each of the last three years, the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL were led by second-year quarterbacks. In fact, three of the nine breakout offenses profiled in the first article of this series were ones that had already had some success previously and then made the jump to elite led by a breakout sophomore season from their quarterback. These are the offense we want to focus in on when assessing the chances the Cardinals make the leap this year:
- The 2019 Ravens, led by 2nd-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, led the NFL in scoring.
- The 2018 Chiefs, led by 2nd-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, led the NFL in scoring.
- The 2017 Rams, led by 2nd-year quarterback Jared Goff, tied for 2nd in the NFL in scoring. They scored just 0.1 PPG less than the highest scoring-offense (Philadelphia, who was led by second-year Carson Wentz).
If you want to build some major upside into your fantasy roster, targeting offenses led by talented young quarterbacks who have yet to reach their ceiling is the clearest path. Now let’s look at whether Murray fits the bill as a second-year quarterback capable of taking his game up a few notches.
Murray rookie year and growth
Jason Wood did an excellent spotlight article here at Footballguys with an in-depth breakdown of Murray’s 2020 prospects. As Wood noted, “Murray passed his rookie test with flying colors”
- 16 games started
- 349 completions
- 542 attempts
- 64.4% completion rate
- 3,722 passing yards
- 20 passing touchdowns
- 12 interceptions
- 93 rushes
- 544 rushing yards
- 4 rushing touchdowns
- QB9 ranking
Many others were impressed with Murray's achievements as a 22-year old rookie and are excited about his dual-threat abilities.
Many NFL experts believe in Murray’s breakout potential. Warren Moon knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed at the NFL level and he is completely sold on Murray’s prospects. “Kyler is a guy whose ceiling is unbelievable because he’s only going to continue to get better,” Moon said in a recent Skype interview with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat. “He was Offensive Rookie of the Year last year. He had a solid season. Started off slow got better as the year went on.” Moon believes Murray’s jump from his rookie year to 2020 will be sizable, especially considering the offensive weapons he has around him.
Maurice Jones-Drew recently noted that if he couldn’t choose Patrick Mahomes II, he would choose Murray as his franchise quarterback. “I’m taking the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Kyler Murray,” said Jones-Drew. “The kid is a ripe 22 years old and the centerpiece of an Arizona Cardinals team on the come-up. The 2019 No. 1 overall pick lived up to the hype as a dual-threat quarterback who thrilled in Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense with impressive throws and timely rushes. Some might argue that Lamar Jackson would be a better choice, but Murray's playing style isn't quite as concerning as the reigning league MVP’s.” Kurt Warner also weighed in with a vote for Murray as the quarterback he would choose to start his franchise.
One of the most exciting aspects of Murray's fantasy potential is that Kingsbury started to figure out how best to use Murray as a runner down the stretch. Murray ran for 34+ yards in five of the Cardinals' final seven games and started to figure out how best to use his elite speed and athleticism. Murray is already the second-best quarterback in the NFL on designed runs and has the potential for so much more.
One of the major factors making it realistic to expect the Cardinals offense to make a big leap for the second straight season is the improvement of the surrounding talent. Arizona swindled Bill O’Brien and the Texans out of one of the best wide receiver talents in the league. The team also has a big group of young wide receivers with upside and we should expect at least one of them to put it all together in their second season in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. The midseason addition of tight end Dan Arnold could also help the red zone offense as he should be a bigger factor after having an offseason to learn the offense.
Aside from the expected growth of Kyler Murray, the addition of Hopkins is the biggest reason for optimism about the 2020 Cardinals offense. Adding one of the best wide receivers in the NFL would give any offense a big boost. Hopkins is coming off three consecutive first-team All-Pro seasons. We saw Hopkins’ ceiling in 2018 when he posted 115 receptions and 1,572 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns.
In a poll conducted with 50 NFL executives, scouts and players, ESPN ranked the top 10 wide receivers for this upcoming season. pic.twitter.com/AnAXYtAHxJ— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) July 10, 2020
Hopkins has a unique skill set that should pair perfectly with Murray’s impressive downfield accuracy. In a recent survey of league personnel, one NFL offensive assistant had this to say about Hopkins: "Not the fastest or quickest, but no one can guard him. All the coaches I've talked to say he's got the best hands they've ever seen." The Cardinals now have two of the players in the all-time best hands conversation. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t drop a single pass last year. Hopkins also plays with physicality, has supreme confidence, and can make something happen after the catch
The Young wide receivers
The addition of Hopkins is huge for the Arizona offense not just due to his direct impact but also the indirect benefit of his presence taking the pressure off of Arizona’s young wide receivers. This group was not ready for prime time last season and looked nervous at times. This wide receiver corps behind Hopkins and Fitzgerald still has plenty of unrealized upside. If even one of these young guys makes a big leap in year two of Kingsbury’s offense, it becomes even easier to envision the Cardinals as one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses.
Kirk was decently productive last season (68-709-3) but was not ready to live up to being the team’s top target and the extra attention paid to him by opposing defenses. He will not have to worry about that this season. Kirk believes he will have mismatch opportunities against opposing defensive backs because better cover defenders will be focused elsewhere. “The fact that I'm playing with arguably a first-ballot Hall of Famer, arguably the best receiver to ever play the game (Fitzgerald) and then one of the best receivers, arguably the best receiver currently in the game right now (Hopkins)…is an advantage toward me,” noted Kirk. At just 23-years old, we have likely not seen Kirk’s ceiling yet.
#RedSeaReport By adding DeAndre Hopkins how will it affect Christian Kirk targets this season?— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) June 17, 2020
The Cardinals base offense will be 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) Kirk should have plenty opportunities in Kingsbury offense. @CraigAZSports @Kyle_Odegard pic.twitter.com/HGhj2Qry0Y
The Cardinals drafted three wide receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft who were expected to make an immediate impact as rookies. That didn’t happen. The trio combined for just 30 catches and 2 touchdowns. However, this is still a group with upside.
Andy Isabella has 4.31 speed. In fact, he was the fastest wide receiver at the 2019 NFL combine. While Isabella reportedly struggled in practice, he made plays when he finally got on the field late in the season. He caught 9 of his 13 targets for 189 yards. That’s 21.0 YPC and 14.5 yards per target.
Hakeem Butler was one of the most hyped rookies in the pre-draft process last spring and a Matt Waldman favorite. He had to take a redshirt season after breaking his hand in training camp. The coaching staff mentioned after the draft that Butler was a bit of a project who needed to clean his route-running up but Kingsbury was excited about his upside. All of the reasons people like Butler coming into the draft are still there and he could provide another red-zone mismatch option across from Hopkins if he used his redshirt season productively.
Dan Arnold is another young role player who could help the Cardinals score more points. He was one of Kyler Murray’s favorite red-zone targets down the stretch in 2019 after arriving via waivers late in the season. Arnold is one of those young players who always showed out in the preseason and flashed in limited opportunities in the regular season. He is a sleeper to watch in this offense that may emerge as one of the league’s best.