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Wild Cards: Fantasy Outlook for Arizona's RBs


When fantasy owners drafted David Johnson in the first round this season, they thought and hoped for a return to superstar form. Johnson had an Average Draft Position of seventh overall in the Fantasy Football Players Championship (FFPC).

The season opened in promising fashion, with 137 yards from scrimmage and six receptions plus a rushing TD. But then the production began to fall off. He totaled 218 yards from scrimmage in the next three games with two total TDs. He did have two games with six and eight catches respectively, but it was not the type of statistical output that was ideally expected. Johnson rebounded for 156 yards from scrimmage in Week 5 and then started showing more of what his owners wanted with 102 yards from scrimmage, two total TDs and six catches in Week 6.

It seemed like things were finally starting to come together with a new head coach and QB. But a series of injuries, a stellar performance by backup Chase Edmonds and then an unexpected trade have created a situation cloudier than a dust storm in the desert.

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Backfield Damage in the Desert

Johnson fought through a back injury in Week 6, but after that game it was reported that he had suffered an ankle injury and would be a game-time decision for Week 7. Much to the frustration of his owners, he did start, but carried just once before Kliff Kingsbury pulled him out of the game. Chase Edmonds, one of the best backup RBs in the NFL and the essential handcuff to Johnson, delivered a breakout performance with 127 rushing yards and three TDs.

Edmonds became a prime waiver pickup and was the second-most added free agent in FleaFlicker leagues after Week 7. Edmonds was ready to start in Week 8 against New Orleans with Johnson not expected to play. He totaled 13 yards from scrimmage on nine touches before he left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.

Now the Cardinals were without both of their top RBs heading into a short week, as they looked ahead to playing the 49ers on Thursday Night Football. They were down to recently added scrap heap adds Zach Zenner and Alfred Morris. GM Steve Keim had been down this road already. During his tenure, he had seen the Cardinals deal with RB depth issues before. Most notably, in 2017, when Johnson went down with a season-ending wrist injury after one game, he had tried to patch the hole with the likes of Kerwynn Williams and made an in-season trade for Adrian Peterson. He drafted Edmonds the following year to bolster the RB depth.

So Keim jumped to complete the same type of move he did in October of 2017 when Johnson went down. With reports swirling that neither Edmonds nor Johnson would be available for this week’s game against the Niners, and the outlook cloudy beyond this week for both, Keim executed a trade to acquire Kenyan Drake from the Miami Dolphins for a conditional 2020 draft pick. This helps the Cards in the short-run but muddies the RB situation for fantasy owners even further.

 

A New RB Picture

The Cardinals are in last place in the very competitive AFC West, but at 3-4-1 they appear to believe they have a chance of making the playoffs. The average fan would not agree, but NFL front office types obviously think differently. Keim obviously sees this Thursday’s game as a big matchup that could be pivotal for Arizona this season, and he wants to give his team the best chance of winning. That sends a very positive message throughout the organization.

It also sends messages to fantasy owners that Johnson and Edmonds have very murky injury outlooks in the shorter term. Kingsbury has said that Johnson is “day to day”, but according to the NFL Network, Edmonds could miss a “few weeks”. It’s all speculative at this point, but it seems the best-case scenario for Arizona would be for Johnson to return in Week 10 with Drake operating as his main complement at that point.

Drake gives the Cardinals the instant depth they needed, plus flexibility. If they need him to start and take on a significant load, as will be the case on Thursday, he can handle the assignment. If they want him to rotate in and out with Johnson, he has mostly operated that way for much of his career so far. In the two games prior to his heavy Week 7 usage. Edmonds averaged nine touches per outing.

That last Edmonds fact demonstrates that fantasy owners cannot get too excited about Drake’s prospects with Arizona when Johnson is available. But if injuries continue to be an issue for a few weeks, he has proven he can provide some upside. In 2017, when it appeared Drake might be on the rise, he totaled 883 yards from scrimmage. Last year he totaled 1.012 yards from scrimmage and nine TDs. But he was very unreliable from week to week for fantasy purposes.

 

A Crowded House?

Based on the outlined previous production in Miami, the Cardinals are getting a versatile RB who can function effectively as a dual-threat, and the Kingsbury offensive style calls for RBs who are adept receivers. It’s the ideal pickup for them for depth and skill set. They get an RB who can start or work as part of a committee.

For Drake, it’s surely a boost to be playing in an improved offense, but his week-to-week role is very uncertain. He’ll have one guaranteed start against the second-best team in terms of allowing Fantasy Points Per Game to opposing RBs. So he should only be used in Week 9 if your fantasy team is quite thin at the position.

After this week, Drake could conceivably operate as a change of pacer for Johnson and a possible short-term handcuff. If Edmonds can return in the near future, that could lead to the situation that fantasy players dread, a committee.

The position would then be considered a luxury for the Cardinals, as they could attack defenses with three very good RBs, keeping all of them fresh and opponents off balance. But that would also mean Johnson could see a trimmed workload when healthy and Drake and Edmonds could not be counted on, especially if a “hot hand” approach develops.

So with a tough upcoming matchup followed by uncertainty, Drake is still a fantasy RB4 type overall. Johnson could get pushed down to mid-range RB status if the committee situation develops. Edmonds has quickly seen his fantasy value take a big hit, as his best outlook would be the main guy in a timeshare if Johnson is out and he is available later in the year. You cannot afford to keep him rostered in the meantime, as there no longer appears to be a path to him regaining a role close to what he had prior to his injury. It is uncertain who will be the true handcuff to Johnson when all three are healthy, too.

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