Every summer, we take a deep dive into the fantasy football average draft position (ADP) of players on each real-life NFL team. We do this so that we can determine which guys are undervalued, overvalued, or valued just right. As we Goldilocks this ADP, our draft board forms based on our opinions of players and where they go in fantasy football drafts. Since drafters draft (mostly) by site algorithms, site algorithms drive ADP on that site. So, we use FantasyPros’ aggregate average draft position data in order to smooth out those edges. To really smooth out the edges, I will use half-PPR average draft position, which you can find here. I am kicking off our sleeper, breakout, and bust series in the same place I always start, with the Arizona Cardinals. The Arizona Cardinals spent the offseason bulking up their offensive line and getting a bunch of old guys into the room (A.J. Green & J.J. Watt). But, they added a couple of players in Rondale Moore and James Conner that change the texture of the squad. Let’s take a look at the guys I’ve tagged as the sleeper, breakout, and bust for the 2021 Arizona Cardinals.
Sleeper: James Conner, Running Back (RB35, 90 OVR)
James Conner is good at football, something that a lot of people have forgotten. And by “a lot of people” I mean my cohosts on the Football Absurdity Podcast. He’s good! People want to act like he isn’t good because he doesn’t rip off a ton of 35+ yard chunk plays; that’s not his game. He is a patient, strong, balanced runner who can catch the football when tasked with it. He replaces Kenyan Drake, who finished 2021 as the RB14 in half-PPR and while he runs differently, his top-line numbers aren’t that much different than Drake’s.
Over the last three seasons, since James Conner emerged, he averaged 13.9 carries and 3.4 receptions per game (17.3 touches) for 86.7 yards and 0.7 touchdowns per game with the Steelers. With the Arizona Cardinals, Kenyan Drake averaged 15.7 carries and 2.3 receptions per game (18 touches), for 82.9 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game. As I said, they are very different running backs, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. They end up in basically the same spot.
But, a lot of this is the situation. Instead, let’s look at PlayerProfiler.com’s profiles for these players, on PlayerProfiler.com, as presented by PlayerProfiler.com. In 2020, James Conner created twice as many yards per touch as Kenyan Drake (1.32 versus 0.66) while facing more defenders in the box (7.0 versus 6.6). Conner also had a higher breakaway rate, and converted his goal-line carries at a higher clip than Drake. James Conner and Kenyan Drake are different players, but they end up in pretty much the same spot.
What happens if Chase Edmonds stays in his role and James Conner is Kenyan Drake? Drake was RB24 in half-PPR points per game last season, and Conner is going as RB35. That’s free money.
Breakout: Rondale Moore, Wide Receiver (WR72, 238 OVR)
Arguably, Rondale Moore should be the sleeper, given his deeper draft price. But, this is my article series and I determined breakouts to be guys elevating to a level where they’ve never been before. Rondale Moore is a rookie wide receiver out of Purdue, who looks more like a running back. He’s a little guy (5’7” 181 pounds) but if you can play football, you can play football. The Mighty Mite turned in a preposterous 9.33 relative athletic score (out of ten) thanks in part to a 4.29 40-yard dash, and the Cardinals took him with the #49 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Clearly, they have a role in mind for the diminutive wideout.
According to NBC Sports Edge, 71% of his yards came after the catch, and 78% of his targets came within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. Put that together and you have a guy who the Cardinals will use in the short game in order to smack home runs with the ball in his hands. That’s the type of player that hits the ground immediately and doesn’t stop pressing fantasy football value.
His major question marks come in the form of a duo of aging superstar wide receivers on the roster: DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. These two guys will absorb a ton of targets this year, at least until A.J. Green gets hurt. That will give Rondale Moore his opportunity to shine.
Bust: Christian Kirk, Wide Receiver (WR52, 137 OVR)
It’s hard to call a guy going in the fifties at WR a bust, but it is when you consider the wide receivers going in the ten picks after him. You could take Christian Kirk, or you could take one of: Jaylen Waddle, Michael Gallup, or Mike Williams. Every single one of these players has more upside than Christian Kirk. For the second time in as many offseasons, the Arizona Cardinals went out and got a guy who would push Kirk down the depth chart. First, it was DeAndre Hopkins. Then, it was Rondale Moore. Now, Kirk has almost no upside. Through three years and 39 games, Kirk has just three contests over 90 yards.
Kirk was already one of the least targeted wide receivers (16.3% target share) and nothing about his profile suggests a massive step forward in 2021. He’s a completely wasted pick at this point in the draft, as he offers zero upside and is going around at least three guys with more upside (two with significantly more upside). Friends don’t let friends put Christian Kirk on their rosters because they read a sleeper piece about him before the 2019 season.