We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The 2020 Arizona Cardinals had a 2019 Cleveland Browns vibe. The gist of the comparison was that both teams had:
- A former No. 1 overall quarterback going into his second year
- Acquired a legit stud wide receiver
- Fairly absurd preseason hype
- Severe enough question marks across the offensive line and defense to wonder if the whole thing might be doomed from the start
Surprisingly, the latter factors didn’t completely sink the 2020 Cardinals; they boasted the league’s 12th-ranked scoring defense and finished the season with PFF’s 12th-ranked offensive line. The bigger issue was seemingly Kyler Murray suffering a shoulder injury in Week 11 that limited his all-world rushing ability. The Cardinals were sitting pretty at 6-3 before the injury only to finish on a 2-5 skid that left them with an 8-8 third-place finish.
Fast forward to the present day, and suddenly the Cardinals look a lot like a post-hype team worth investing in. What follows is a breakdown of just how good Murray was last season and what to expect from him as a fantasy football asset in 2021.
Murray was on pace to break fantasy football last season
There wasn’t a more productive quarterback than Murray before he injured his shoulder against the Seattle Seahawks. Overall, the Cardinals quarterback had put up 21.5 fantasy points more than the QB2 (Josh Allen) in the first 10 weeks of the season despite the team having already had their Week 8 bye.
“The best ability is availability” concerns aside, Murray truly showed that he’s capable of serving as a fantasy cheat code during this stretch. His average of 29.3 fantasy points per game in Weeks 1-10 would have been good for the single-best mark ever if maintained over the course of 16 games.
The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner is hardly a liability as a passer, but his rushing ability was responsible for these absurd numbers. He ranked 12th in fantasy points from purely rushing production among all players. The man was borderline impossible to stop on the ground at times.
Kyler Murray doing Kyler Murray thingspic.twitter.com/tNSAI8I4Um
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 14, 2021
It’s not a given that Murray will run as frequently in 2021 as he did last season. The rising third-year quarterback has even gone on record saying he believes his legs should be treated as more of a luxury moving forward.
In 2020, Murray averaged 9.7 carries per game in Weeks 1-10 compared to 6.6 during the Cardinals’ final seven games. Still, we see this sort of offseason talk plenty. Lamar Jackson said the same thing before last season and somewhat stuck to the plan until the Ravens realized what the offense looked like without his legs. He averaged 8.3 rush attempts per game before the Ravens’ Week 6 bye compared to 12.1 after.
Basically, the only reason why Murray wouldn’t run as often in 2021 is if the Cardinals manage to vastly improve their passing efficiency, which would obviously be just fine for his real-life trajectory. Perhaps this is the case and we see Murray’s all-time best fantasy pace drop to a more reasonable level, but even a five-point reduction from his first-half pace would leave him as a top-five quarterback on the year.
Make no mistake about it, Murray can sling the rock just fine, and it’d hardly be surprising if he takes another rather large step forward as a passer in 2021.
- PFF passing grade: 77.2 (No. 15 among 44 QBs with 100-plus dropbacks in 2020)
- Passer rating: 94.3 (No. 21)
- Big-time throw rate: 4.8% (tied for No. 20)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.5% (tied for No. 8)
- Yards per attempt: 7.1 (No. 27)
- Adjusted completion rate: 76.5% (tied for No. 18)
Murray is already one of the most dynamic rushing threats the quarterback position has ever seen. And statistically, it’s hard to paint him as anything other than an above-average passer. The question is whether or not the rest of his teammates can help elevate this offense to another level.