The Arizona Cardinals lost Christian Kirk to the Brinks truck the Jacksonville Jaguars backed up to his house, and Chase Edmonds absconded off to Miami. But, the Cardinals re-signed two key components of their second-half surge in 2021. What’s that? They fell off the face of the earth? They went 2-4 after their bye week? Yikes. Anyway, the Cardinals are running it back in 2022 with James Conner and Zach Ertz. What does the 2022 season in Arizona look like with Conner and Ertz in tow while losing Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds?
First, let’s take a look at James Conner. If you know James Conner, you know one thing: he has trouble staying healthy. If you know a second thing about James Conner, it’s that he scored a boatload of touchdowns last season. He ended the year playing 15 games and scoring 18 touchdowns, which speaks to both of those facts a bit. Now, let’s take a look at Conner without Chase Edmonds in 2021 (with the full caveat that I’m not naïve enough to think that the Cardinals are done at running back). Edmonds left just one touch into the 49ers’ game in week nine, and Conner shouldered the load from weeks nine through fourteen. He finished that span with 114 yards per game on 17 carries and 5 catches, and he scored eight touchdowns in those five games. He was #goodatfootball in that span.
But here’s the thing: he always has been. In three years as a starter with the Steelers, Conner averaged 87 yards per game on 14 carries and 3.5 receptions per game, and that includes contests where he left after just a handful of snaps due to injury. He’s not the most athletic, or the flashiest, but he is a tough and focused runner who uses his vision to stay away from would-be tacklers. Conner was #14 in evaded tackles but just #31 in breakaway run rate, which tells you all you really need to know about his long speed.
Conner also has two components to his game that will buoy his fantasy production, especially in PPR leagues. He led all running backs in catch rate last year and ranked third in yards per reception at the position. Catching the ball has always been a part of Conner’s game, and he isn’t just a banger. But, he can also be a banger, as his fourteen goal-line carries ranked second behind Jonathan Taylor last season.
Conner has all the components to be a top-ten running back in 2022, he just needs to stay healthy. But, that’s true of basically every running back: health is the problem. If he slips outside of the top twelve, snatch him up as an extreme upside RB2 or play it spicy with him as your RB1. The Cardinals are a good offense who have had a goal-line back as part of their repertoire for two-straight seasons (it was Kenyan Drake before it was Conner). Conner should continue to return profit because he doesn’t pop off the tape. He’s just boringly useful, but fantasy points are fantasy points.
Let’s take a look at Zach Ertz, as well. We all sort of left Zach Ertz for dead after he spent his 2020 season getting balls fired over his head and at his feet by a flailing Carson Wentz. Then, we wrote him off because the Eagles allowed him to seek a trade. He was an Eagle until week six, and after that point, he was a fantasy football force. After joining the Cardinals, Ertz averaged 5 catches for 52 yards per game. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but only seven tight ends averaged over 50 yards per game last year, and only Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle had more than 50 yards per game on more than 5 catches per contest. Given that Zach Ertz had to deal with Carson Wentz’s implosion, I implore you: don’t call it a comeback.
Ertz won’t go inside the top-five or even the top-six. Hell, he might not even be inside the top ten by ADP when the draft season rolls around. He might just be the best draft value at tight end in 2022, with his current expert consensus rank of tight end fourteen and pick one hundred twenty-one overall in current FantasyPros Expert Consensus Ranks.
Now, let’s touch on the Cardinals’ Christian Kirk deletion. Kirk and his 103 targets are going to Jacksonville, and a lot of people are looking at this plus the Chase Edmonds loss and screaming about Rondale Moore and the moon. While Moore will get an uptick in targets, I’m not entirely bullish on his prospects for 2022. Moore already had 64 targets last season, and I could see him picking up another handful of them, but it’s more likely that the targets go to DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins saw at least 150 targets in six-straight seasons. Then, inexplicably, he ended up averaging 6.4 targets per game last year (a 109-target pace), and then he missed seven games. While I would love for springy Lil Rondale Moore to be the main beneficiary of this roster shakeup, I just don’t see it happening as much as a lot of people want to see happen.
In the end, the Cardinals will look different next season, but I think it will benefit the position players who are already there. The team will feature a slimmed-down—but still insanely talented—corps of weapons for Kyler Murray… or whoever else might be under center for the Cardinals in 2022.