Marvin Harrison Jr. Fantasy Football Outlook as a Cardinal: Kyler Gets an Upgrade

Apr 28, 2024
Marvin Harrison Jr. Fantasy Outlook as a Cardinal: Kyler Gets an Upgrade

With the fourth overall selection of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals stayed put and grabbed stud wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. Despite all of the rumblings that the Cardinals were open to trades to move back for a QB-needy team, they instead snagged their new franchise WR1 to continue their offensive rebuild. Harrison provides quarterback Kyler Murray with a defensive headache that the team hasn’t had since DeAndre Hopkins’ abbreviated 2022 season.

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Marvin Harrison Jr.’s Prospect Profile

As with the line of wide receivers from Ohio State immediately ahead of Marvin Harrison Jr.Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba— the former Buckeye has been in the fantasy football scope for what seems like years now. It is almost assumed at this point that if a WR is entering the NFL Draft from OSU or LSU, they are going to be relevant in our game, and Harrison is no exception.

Entering Ohio State as the No. 14 wide receiver of the 2021 recruiting class, Harrison hardly saw the field as a freshman due to the aforementioned talent in front of him, but he made a splash during his first and only start of the year. During the ‘21 Rose Bowl, MHJ caught six balls, three of which went for touchdowns and 71 yards. It gave us a glimpse of what might be in store once Wilson and Olave left school before the 2022 NFL season.

Marvin Harrison Jr. College Career Statline
Year Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns YPRR aDOT
2021 16 11 139 3 1.09 9.9
2022 118 77 1,263 14 3.18 14.3
2023 114 67 1,211 14 3.44 13.1

An immediate takeaway from Harrison’s two full seasons as a starter was his continued output in 2023, despite an obvious drop in talent at the quarterback position from C.J. Stroud to Kyle McCord. His dominant red zone presence also remained intact, as he repeated his 14 touchdown output from the year prior, thanks in large part to leading all FBS pass-catchers with 11 targets from within the opponent’s 10-yard-line.

Harrison was one of many wide receivers who skipped testing at the NFL Combine and their Pro Day(s). While we don’t have the numbers to back it up, the eye test tells us he has plenty of speed, even if he won’t be confused for the Xavier Worthy or Rome Odunze’s of this class. His elusiveness is also not on the level of fellow top-10 selection Malik Nabers, but he still has plenty of after-the-catch usefulness to create explosive plays, even if his 2023 6.4 YAC per reception sticks out like a sore thumb.

Separation, a deadly perimeter/boundary game, will translate to deep-ball success from Day 1.

How Marvin Harrison Jr. Fits With the Cardinals

In short, perfectly.

While Harrison can technically line up all over the field, it’s likely that he sees a vast majority of his snaps come from out wide, where the Cardinals had a hodge podge of options throughout the 2023 season. The main options from last season were Marquise Brown (398 routes from wide), Michael Wilson (329), and Greg Dortch (184). Of 119 qualifying wide receivers who were targeted when lined up out wide, here is how that group ranked in some telling statistics:

Marquise Brown, Michael Wilson, Greg Dortch Out Wide, 2023
Player Yards/Tgt On-Tgt Catch% Yards per Rec EPA per Tgt
Marquise Brown 5.6 (96th) 85.7% (63rd) 12.3 (74th) -0.10 (85th)
Michael Wilson 7.9 (50th) 87.5% (55th) 14.9 (33rd) -0.11 (86th)
Greg Dortch 5.4 (98th) 100% (t-1st) 10.8 (85th) -0.11 (87th)

One takeaway from that dataset is that Greg Dortch will catch everything thrown his way, but another more important one is that the team desperately needed an upgrade to their outside receivers. Brown has moved on to the Chiefs this offseason, but even if he hadn’t, an upgrade was in store and they have certainly gotten one in their fourth-overall selection.

In a similar subsect of college receivers last season (115 qualifiers), Harrison ranked 21st in yards per target (10.2), ninth in yards per reception (19.3), and second in points above average* (32.82) when lining up out wide. (*Sports Info Solutions metric that builds on EPA)

This isn’t to say that the team won’t also rotate him into the slot as a “big slot” player where he can really shine against inferior defenders.

Slot snaps for Harrison will more likely than not lock safeties closer to the middle of the field to allow the aforementioned Wilson and Dortch to become more efficient with their targets in 2024.

Projecting the Cardinals Offense in Fantasy Football

While Wilson and Dortch’s targets should be more efficient this season, their target share is practically guaranteed to be squeezed. Harrison should absolutely feast with Kyler Murray, making him his first read more often than not, but we haven’t even mentioned tight end Trey McBride yet. The offense will run through that two-headed monster and a backfield bolstered by the addition of Trey Benson to spell James Conner, pushing the ancillary options deep down fantasy boards.

The addition of a bona fide WR1 will supplement the offense as a whole, but it’s worth wondering where McBride’s floor sits after his monster target season. Even if the team decided to wait and take one of the tier 2/3 receivers, there was next to no chance that McBride was going to repeat the league-leading 24% target share he enjoyed from Week 8 onward last year. He will still be a great fantasy commodity, but we have to assume that those strings of 9+ target games will be limited, with Harrison soaking up so much of the action.

It almost goes without saying that Kyler is the biggest beneficiary of this draft pick, behind Harrison himself. With that mediocre group of receivers we touched on in the previous section, Murray still managed to finish the season as the QB10 in fantasy points per game (18.3) while also recovering from his torn ACL. Murray is back on the radar as a strong weekly QB1 option, and there’s an argument to be made that he should be inched toward the top-7 range after he showed a willingness to run so soon after his injury.

Marvin Harrison Jr. profiles as a locked-in WR2 in fantasy football for 2024, and we should expect plenty of top-12 weeks sprinkled throughout the season. Murray and Harrison are going to end up being one of the more coveted best ball stacks throughout the warmer months.

Bottom Line

  • It was reported that the Cardinals had plenty of chances to move back in the NFL Draft but opted to play their hand and select Marvin Harrison Jr. as a blue chip No. 1 wide receiver.
  • Harrison had consistently great numbers in college despite playing with other NFL-caliber pass catchers and multiple quarterbacks.
  • Overall, the Arizona offense has received a huge upgrade, particularly when their rookie receiver flexes his muscles as a perimeter terror.
  • In pre-Draft Underdog drafts, Harrison was coming off the board as the WR9 in the middle of the second round. It will be interesting if that ADP moves one way or the other, considering it was widely believed he was going to the Cardinals, but it is a little expensive as it stands. Harrison should fly out of the gates, but that price is a little too close to what could end up being his ceiling. If he falls closer to the WR12-14 range, he should be taken every time, particularly at the 2/3 turn.
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