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Fantasy Outlook: Carson Palmer for 2016

Jan 30, 2016

Can Carson Palmer maintain his elite production in 2016?

Can Carson Palmer maintain his elite production in 2016?

Whewww. That was rough.

23/40 235 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs, 43.2 QB Rating

There’s little we can do to clean up the poo-stained performance of Carson Palmer and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals left out on the field during Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in Charlotte. It would be easy (to continue our bathroom metaphor) to flush an entire season’s worth of golden fantasy moments down the toilet if we were to sit and dwell on this performance for far too long. In fact, many owners will have this Panthers’ beatdown in the forefront of their fantasy memories heading into the next draft season.

Let’s sober up and come to some concrete conclusions concerning Palmer for next year.

We can’t forget the incredible fantasy impact that Palmer made during the regular season. Palmer was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 rated QB and their MVP for the 2015 season, ahead of the presumed public frontrunner, Cam Newton. In fact, Palmer didn’t have a single game graded negatively, and only three of his games earned a grade lower than +2.0 (0.0 for a game is average).

What made Palmer one of the most valuable players in fantasy football was his ADP and his consistency. Palmer was routinely drafted in the 11th and 12th rounds, behind the likes of supposed “young breakout” stars such as Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater. He was an aging veteran who was labeled as an injury risk coming off 2014’s season-ending, gruesome ACL injury.

Many had the joy of grabbing Palmer off the waiver wire as he became more than just another streamable option at the QB position. Owners rode Palmer to the fantasy playoffs as the Cardinals ran a nine-game win streak after Week 6, highlighted by a monster 363-yard, three-TD performance on the road in Seattle in Week 10.

He was the model of consistency throughout 2015, averaging 19.3 standard fantasy points per contest, the fifth-best in the league, as well as nine QB1 weeks as a top-12 performer, tied with Russell Wilson for third-most behind only Tom Brady (11), Cam Newton (10) and Blake Bortles (10). That type of consistent production week-in and week-out can easily be forgotten as. He certainly did not cost owners in any given week up until being diagnosed with postseason, Andy Dalton-like jitters in Charlotte last week.

Looking forward to next season, the only major free agents on the offensive side of the ball (although there are a lot of key defensive guys in their secondary such as Tony Jefferson, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson and Justin Bethel) are RB Chris Johnson, TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Jaron Brown.

There have been some wondering if S Tyrann Mathieu, after an All-Pro year, could get an extension although he is still under contract through 2016. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.

Although CJ2K performed admirably after he was picked up off the scrap heap and became a top-five rusher in the first half before going down with a season-ending injury, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will extend offers to these veterans. What is important is that the core of this offense should be back for another go around in 2016.

With a full year of RB David Johnson carrying the rock as well as the return of the formidable WR trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, the NFL’s No. 2 offense this year could produce similar numbers next season. Rookie J.J. Nelson also flashed some major downfield speed and game-breaking ability in the return game as his snap counts should only increase next year as he moves ahead of Jaron Brown.

But what kind of regression can we look for out of Palmer after a career year in his age-36 season? The highest Palmer had ever previously finished in PFF’s QB rankings for a season was 10th, back in 2007. At 36 years old, Palmer had an all-time season that will not be easily replicated.

He will be treated as a top-10 option this year in most publications and initial rankings barring any setbacks in the offseason. Returning this type of production for his draft position is also assuming perfect health, a mostly healthy offensive line (which was the case in 2015), another All-Pro type season from veteran Larry Fitzgerald, and the downfield efficiency which set apart Palmer in 2015. All of that is a lot to ask for again. They can still maintain the balance and efficiency in Bruce Arians’ system utilizing David Johnson as a perfect “do-it-all” back, but it should be expected that an MVP-type season is not in the “cards” again for Palmer.

I’m staring at an aging pocket-passer QB in his age-37 season without the confidence to select Palmer where he will most likely be taken. Rounds 6-8 are the window in which I expect Palmer to land, which is when I’d rather be stockpiling valuable RBs.

In this age of streaming options at the QB position in fantasy, we’re looking more for upside and mitigating risk while finding consistent weekly production. If you believe in this offense moving forward with all variables set aside, go for it.

Things hit just right for Palmer in 2015 and owners that took him. I’d be betting against that type of upside again in 2016.

Kyle Borgognoni is an MLB and NFL correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @kyle_borg.