Arizona Cardinals Opportunity Analysis

The Opportunity Analysis – Arizona Cardinals

The Opportunity Analysis | Arizona Cardinals 2020

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Arizona Cardinals

        • Available Targets: 156
        • Potential Drop-Backs: +25
        • Total New Opportunities: 181
        • Opportunities Analysis Rank: 7

When evaluating the Arizona Cardinals some assumptions had to be made as head coach Kliff Kingsbury is only heading into his second season in the NFL. Some things we do know from previous college coaches is that it takes time for new play callers to get an understanding of how to operate their offenses in NFL.

Chip Kelly is the closest example of an offensive minded college head coach making the move to the NFL that we have to Kingsbury.

In Kelly’s first season the Philadelphia Eagles saw just 586 drop-backs. That number grew to 674 and 672 in his second and third seasons as a play-caller. This is similar to what we saw in Kingsbury’s first season, as he came out the gates throwing early and often.

In Weeks 1-6 Kyler Murray was second in the NFL in drop-backs with a 16 game pace of 728. During that time frame Murray eclipsed 40 drop-backs in a game four times, and Arizona used four wide receiver sets on 45% of their pass plays.

After Week 6, Arizona only had only three games of at least 40 drop-backs and utilized four wide receivers on just 29% of pass plays. This was a clear philosophy change due to the lack of talent at the receiver position; Kingsbury was forced to change his offense mid-year.

DeAndre Hopkins is now in Arizona as Kingbury’s newest alpha wide receiver. Hopkins, along with Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald give him a formidable trio to help spread the offense in 2020. The Hopkins addition allows second year players KeeSean Johnson, Andy Isabella, and Hakeem Butler to compete for just one spot in four wide receiver sets. This will put the offense in a much better position to go four wide in 2020.

Primary Beneficiary – Christian Kirk

Christian Kirk’s 108 targets in 13 games put him on pace for 132 targets in 2019. Now with DeAndre Hopkins in the fold it would make sense to downgrade Kirk. However, with 181 projected opportunities available in 2020 there is plenty of targets for Hopkins while keeping Kirk at the 8.3 targets per game from 2019.

A similar situation happened in Arizona last season as the team saw a jump in drop-backs from 564 to 635. That allowed Kirk to make a leap while keeping Larry Fitzgerald at the same points per game from the previous year.

It is worth noting that Kirk’s slight bump in fantasy points per game did lead to a dip in efficiency from 2018. He saw his yards per route run and yards per target both drop. However, heading into his second season with Kyle Murray and Kliff Kingsbury there is room for optimism for Kirk to bounce back.

A glaring area Kirk can make an immediate improvement is in the deep passing game. Kirk saw his reception percentage fall from 60% to 23%. If Kirk can get closer to his 2018 efficiency and combine it with his 2019 targets, he could easily flirt with 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.

Finally, with Kirk heading into his third season, it is a prime year for wide receiver breakouts. Along with the overall offense taking a step forward, Kirk should be viewed as a high-end WR3. His current average draft position is the WR37 in the eighth round.

Secondary Beneficiary – Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake was an asset down the stretch in 2019 as he was the RB4 after joining the Cardinals. Even if we remove his dominate Week 9 performance, Drake was still the RB7 from Week 10 to the end of the season. Drake did most of his damage on the ground as he only topped 30 receiving yards once, and failed to score through the air in any of his eight games with the Cardinals.

It is notable that the Cardinals started to incorporate more two tight end looks once Drake became the full time starter, and overall as team relied less on the passing game down the stretch. As discussed previously with DeAndre Hopkins on board, we should see Kingsbury revert back to his heavy wide receiver packages in 2020.

One of the key benefits to four wide receiver sets is that there is no tight end on the field, and over the years we have found tight end usage has impacted running backs in the passing game.

This was evident early in 2019 as David Johnson was seeing over six targets per game while the Cardinals went four wide. After Week 6 the running back targets fell from 22% to 17% while the tight end usage jumped from 7% to 13% over that same span. This was reflective in Kenyan Drake’s passing game usage as he saw two less targets a game than Johnson did earlier in the 2019.

If the passing game volume does increase like the projections indicate then Drake will have a much better chance of receiving the over six targets per game Johnson had earlier in the 2019 season. This increase in passing game usage would allow Drake flirt with consistent top five value in 2020.

Currently going as the RB11 in the second round, Drake has already shown top four upside in this offense making him the premier pick at the one/two turn in snake drafts in 2020 fantasy drafts.