As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Cardinals have undergone an off-season of transition. Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians are gone with Steve Wilks taking over as head coach. He’s brought Al Holcomb along with him and it seems like we’ll see a wholesale transplant of the Panthers’ defensive scheme in the desert.
That scheme has been very effective in recent years (including a Super Bowl visit after a 15-1 season) so hopefully the defense won’t suffer too much. It will look extremely different after years of blitz-heavy Todd Bowles and James Bettcher schemes but with a period of adjustment and adaptation, it should still be high quality.
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The headline here is Robert Nkemdiche moving inside. He’ll play his natural role of 3-tech which should allow him a fresh start at least to unlock some of that potential he flashed in college before being selected in the first round. It’s not that simple, and he’ll have to improve a lot to get to this sort of production, but this is the coaching team who made Kawann Short a household name.
Next door at nose tackle, Corey Peters is a space-eater and should not be owned in most leagues. The other players are relics of the old regime’s ‘rotate-big-bodies’ approach to linemen and should be seen as placeholders.
This is the key headline of the scheme transition. Chandler Jones follows up a 2017 when he led the league in sacks with a move back to the more valuable IDP position of end. If he can stay on the field as much (his 1,045 2017 snaps led all edge rushers) as stay productive, he could be fantastic. It’s tough to project double-digit sacks for any player but Jones is as much a lock as anyone else to get to that sort of level.
Markus Golden is the starter opposite him but has more concerns. At 6’2” and 260, Golden is a little small for a full-time end and plays that way too. It’s slightly tough to believe he can play a high amount of snaps but he could still be very productive in a more limited role.
Benson Mayowa is intriguing as a rotational piece too. As recently as 2016, he managed six sacks for the Cowboys and is more than a backup at his best. In fact, he managed 21 pressures last season from limited playing time, which was impressive. Mayowa is a good stash in deep leagues.
Deone Bucannon has lost some of the lustre he had even a year ago. But the new scheme could really revitalise his value. In Carolina, the entire defense revolved around Luke Kuechly as the sort of linebacker who could cover side-line to side-line. Bucannon is absolutely not at that level (almost no-one is) but he’s a good player at his best and we didn’t see that in an injury-hit 2017. He could easily have a strong bounce back season if he can post anything like the numbers that the Panthers linebackers have been posting every season over the last half decade.
At the other spot there are plenty of people who think Josh Bynes will be the starter. Personally I think Haason Reddick is too intriguing a prospect to not give a chance to. He’ll line up at Sam in base formations, which harms his efficiency but does not preclude him being a three-down player. This is a good opportunity to buy cheap given how many casual IDP players seem to think he was a disaster as a rookie. It wasn’t a good debut season but the move to OLB was mostly to blame for that.
Having said that, Bynes will have a good role in three-LB sets and could well win a bigger role. He’s worth gambling on if you have the space.
The Cards have lacked a good number two corner for years. It’s certainly no easy task to play across from Patrick Peterson but the lack of attention the spot has received has been noteworthy. Jamar Taylor is certainly not a bad player but at the moment he looks like a target-magnet who will generate IDP points in large amounts. Justin Bethel played this role wonderfully in the first half of 2017 before Tramon Williams took over. Taylor needs to be owned in leagues that require corners.
Another big change for the team is Tyrann Mathieu’s absence. He won’t be manning the slot any more which leaves a yawning hole. Many think Budda Baker could fill it but it seems likely he will continue with his role as a more orthodox safety. He performed well there last year and is a good fit for Wilks’ two-deep safety system. Baker cannot realistically maintain the heights he showed last year with a couple of incendiary games but he should be a solid producer.
Stud (who is an elite asset?)
Chandler Jones. The projection included here is conservative. If you’re lucky enough to own Chandler Jones you should be treating him as a top end and a must-start asset. He’s shown his ability to deliver high pressure numbers and play in multiple spots. He should be an elite option at the position again.
Disappointment (who is being overrated by the IDP community?)
Patrick Peterson. Although he comes out as 18th here Peterson is one of those players who will suffer from being a shutdown corner. If your scoring is good then those players can still be effective IDP options but the lack of tackles will hurt in most leagues. In the scoring system used here PP is as high as he is due to his high passes defended numbers but that might not be true in your league. Generally you’re best off leaving someone else to take big-name corners and Peterson is a prime example.
Dark horse (who could be much better than this?)
Robert Nkemdiche. As above this is a long-shot. It seems likely at this stage that he’s just not that good an NFL player and leaves the team after this season. But in the short-term this team is desperate for an inside pass-rusher with Nkemdiche being the first guy to get a chance to win the job. I wouldn’t touch him in leagues with fewer than 60 roster spots but above that he’s an interesting hold.
This team is littered with talent. Chandler Jones, Deone Bucannon, Budda Baker, Patrick Peterson. There are good players at every level. But there are still holes. There’s no obvious number two corner. The team need another end. An interior pass rusher might be an issue. The linebackers are lightweight. Put together this is fascinating.
Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb could easily assemble a good unit but just as easily it could be a unit of flaws and a down year in the desert before restocking for another off-season.
Thanks for reading.