Finding Cheap Targets on Bad Teams: Arizona Cardinals

Finding Cheap Targets on Bad Teams: Arizona Cardinals

Bad NFL teams pass the ball, sometimes a lot.   

Because, see, when a team is in the constant grip of negative game script, an offense doesn't have the luxury to do all the favorite coach stuff like establish the run and maintain a run-pass balance and run so that they can pass—all of it nonsense coachspeak that should be swept into the dustbin of pigskin history.   

This isn't to say every terrible NFL team puts up a truckload of pass attempts. Some bottom-barrel squads, like John Fox's horrid 2017 Chicago Bears or Jeff Fisher's abysmal 2016 L.A. Rams, stay committed to the run despite the never-ending negative game script. You have to admire the utter determination to go down with one's preferred misguided offensive strategy.   

There is value to be had among these teams that just might take to the air in the face of double-digit second-half deficits in 2019. Those pass attempts, however forced or inaccurate, have to go somewhere, presumably to pass catchers we can roster on the cheap in redraft fantasy leagues. 

I crunched a bunch of numbers and found that truly bad NFL teams—squads that win five or fewer games—have averaged 550.7 pass attempts over the past three seasons, with 10 of those teams (47%) finishing among the top half of the league in pass attempts. For the sake of context, 550 pass attempts would have been the 16th most in 2018. Best-case scenarios in which awful teams took to the air at wild clips include the 2016 Jaguars, who threw the pigskin 626 times (fourth most), the 2017 Giants, with a league-leading 608 pass attempts, and the 2018 Bucs, who threw the ball 625 times (fourth most). 

In this space over the next few weeks, we're going to examine cheap receiver targets on teams projected by Vegas to win fewer than six games in 2019. Of course, not all of these teams will rank among the most pass-heavy, but the average draft positions of most of these pass catchers aren't incorporated into their redraft price points.   

Let's take a look at the Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals

Unlike the Dolphins and Bengals, the top two receivers for the Cardinals sport average draft positions that (likely) incorporate much of their upside in 2019 redraft leagues. 

Vegas projects Arizona for a measly five wins in 2019, the second-lowest mark in the NFL, behind only the zombified sea mammals we call the Miami Dolphins. The potential for loads of negative game script combined with Kliff Kingsbury's "air raid" offensive approach could make for quite a few Kyler Murray dropbacks in 2019. It's not hard to envision a scenario in which the team's top two receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, exceed their projected targets—maybe by a lot. While Kingsbury has paid lip service to establishing the run in 2019—maybe to gain the respect of his norms-adoring NFL coaching brethren—we know that any system resembling what Kingsbury ran at Texas Tech, Houston, and Texas A&M will lead to someone annihilating their ADP. Maybe a few someones on the Cards will make their summertime ADPs look downright silly. 

The question isn’t whether Fitzgerald and Kirk represent potentially cheap targets in fantasy football, but whether these targets are relatively cheap. Fitzgerald is going in the mid-ninth round of 12-team PPR leagues, about one round later than Kirk, who is the 35th receiver off the draft board. Could volume, the only thing that matters in fantasy, mean one or both of these pass catchers could prove a screaming, wailing, crying value in redraft formats?

Kingsbury: Establisher of the Pass 

The Cardinals failing to eclipse the aforementioned 550-attempt mark this season would seem to be quite the upset. 

Below is a rundown showing just how prolifically pass heavy Kingsbury’s offenses have been over the past decade, from his days as Houston’s offensive coordinator to his six-year run as head coach at Texas Tech. 

Pass Attempts in Kliff Kingsbury Offenses, 2010–2018
Year Team Pass attempts Pass attempts rank
2010 Houston 41.0 8th
2011 Houston 48.6 3rd
2012 Texas A&M 39.4 22nd
2013 Texas Tech 55.6 2nd
2014 Texas Tech 46.0 4th
2015 Texas Tech 46.9 2nd
2016 Texas Tech 52.9 1st
2017 Texas Tech 42.2 7th
2018 Texas Tech 45.5 3rd
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