Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock so far this offseason, there have been some earth-shaking news bites coming out of the NFL. Huge trades, big-money contracts, and free agency signings have been the “bee’s knees” of NFL storylines to this point of the offseason. But what would the offseason be without a few players getting in trouble with the league? Such is the case with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. GASP!
Yes, it’s that DeAndre Hopkins. The same DeAndre Hopkins that had missed just two games in his career until last season. Hopkins had already been dealing with hamstring and ankle injuries last season forcing him to miss seven games but now he’ll miss another six games after being popped for violating the NFL’s Drug Policy after being found using PEDs. There are even some skeptics wondering if the writing is on the wall for Hopkins to be cut loose after this latest incident.
According to an article from Sports Illustrated, by the time Hopkins returns from his suspension, he’ll have missed nearly 14 games. On top of that, he’ll be owed a non-guaranteed $19.45 million heading into the 2023 season. He’ll also be cracking 31 years old and you know how some around the NFL feel about aging players. The Cardinals, depending on how Hopkins performs in the remaining 11 games of the season may impact whether or not he remains with the Cardinals moving forward or whether or not the team decides to get out from under that contract and free up some cap space.
But this suspension also prompted the Cardinals to make one of the biggest trades during the 2022 NFL Draft when they traded their 23rd overall first-round pick for Baltimore Ravens receiver Marquise Brown. So where do all the chips fall for fantasy managers?
Hopkins Loss… What Can Brown Do For You?
Let’s be honest, losing DeAndre Hopkins to a PED suspension was a swift kick in the nads, especially if you’re a Dynasty player. Hopkins is a perennial 1k + six-plus touchdown receiver on any given Sunday. Hopkins has only had two seasons in his career where he had less than 1,000 yards receiving when he was able to play injury-free. On top of that, Hopkins has been a top-five fantasy wide receiver over the last three seasons (2018-2020). During this span, Hopkins averaged nearly 18.9 fantasy points per game.
Not only that but Hopkins commands one of the highest target shares in the NFL among wide receivers. For example, in 2020 only Davante Adams had a higher target share than Hopkins, beating him out just slightly with his 29.7% target share in Green Bay compared to Hopkins’s 29.4% with the Cardinals. Since 2018, Hopkins has been in the top two in target share among wide receivers so the workload and production are all but guaranteed.
Enter Marquise Brown. Now the defacto number one wide receiver for the first half of the season. He’ll likely be the beneficiary of a higher target share, even more so than his 24.7% target share with the Ravens last year. Brown averaged 9.1 targets a game last season. While Hopkins did see a dip in targets during the 2021 season, averaging just 6.1 targets per game over the first eight games (just 6.4 targets per game), a healthy Hopkins averaged 10 targets per game in 2020.
Marquise Brown may be able to see a similar target share that Hopkins saw in 2020. Brown’s ability to stretch the field with his speed may be another avenue of attack for the Cardinals in 2022 as well. Brown led all Ravens receivers in air yards with 1,518 air yards and averaged 94.8 air yards per game for the 2021 season. He also averaged 14.1 fantasy points per game on the season to boot.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Chrisitan Kirk is no longer on the team. After hitting free agency this offseason and receiving the bag from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kirk saw a substantial increase in his target share when DeAndre Hopkins went down for the remainder of the season. Over the final three games of the 2021 season, Kirk actually led the team with an 18.3% target share among the remaining wide receivers. Kirk would go on to finish the season with an 18% target share equating to 103 targets on the season and seeing 52 targets in the games that Hopkins was out and he was the number one guy.
Brown also is useful in the RedZone as he saw 16 targets in the Red Zone, leading all Ravens wide receivers in the category with tight end Mark Andrews seeing 20 targets. If there is one knock on Brown, it’s that he was only able to covert two of the targets into touchdowns (just eight receptions for 50 yards in the RedZone). He’ll have to do better in that department with Kyler Murray or those could fall to other playmakers on the Cardinals’ offense. Speaking of which…
Next Man Up
If there’s another player that should see an uptick in work with DeAndre Hopkins sidelined, I would be looking at tight end, Zach Ertz. Last season after being traded from the Eagles mid-season, Ertz returned to form after there was speculation that he was on his way out after an abysmal start under Jalen Hurts (maybe it was because Hurts was just awful as a passer…). After averaging just over five targets a game over the six games of the season with the Eagles (and just 189 receiving yards), Ertz’s targets jumped to 7.4 over the remainder of the season.
Ertz even saw seven targets or more over the final five games of the regular season after Hopkins went down for the year behind multiple injuries. Ertz may be the next in line to see added work with Hopkins down and the offense needing to go through other players. Ertz led the team in RedZone targets after he arrived on the team after the trade too seeing 18 targets inside the 20.
AJ Green is another wide receiver that could see some more work as well. Green saw a 16.1% target share among Cardinal wide receivers placing second on the team. With Christian Kirk taking his talents to Jacksonville with the Jaguars, his wide receiver target share of 18% goes with him. Granted, that was also impacted by DeAndre Hopkins missing the rest of the season but that’s more proof that work will be divided up among the rest of the top wide receivers until Hopkins comes back. Green would conclude the season as second among the Cardinals wide receivers with 92 targets. If you notice the graph above, Green actually led the wide receivers in RedZone targets with 16.
Green’s size in the RedZone may be crucial when the Cardinals come within striking distance so while the deep routes may fall to Marquise Brown, both Brown and Green (ha! Color gang) should see ample opportunities to score points in a Cardinals offense that finished 11th in scoring with 26.4 points per game. But there’s one more group that fantasy managers should watch that may see added work too…
James Conner Anyone?
The Cardinals running back situation is looking to be an interesting one after you look behind James Conner and that’s not to say that Conner is a slouch. By far it’s the exact opposite. James Conner was able to finish as the RB5 in 2021 with 15 touchdowns and averaged 17.2 fantasy points per game. That’s incredible when you consider just a season ago he was on the outs in Pittsburgh with the Steelers. Back in 2020, Conner finished well outside the top 20 among running backs (27th overall) and ended up picking up another injury forcing him to miss three games.
On top of that Chase Edmonds, the change of pace back behind James Conner who was soaking up the backfields targets opted to take his talents to Miami with the Dolphins, leaving behind 53 targets and a 9.3% target share out of the backfield. Conner himself came in second on the Cardinals backfield in targets with 53 and a 6.8% target share that same season. Eno Benjamin who will slide into the number two back spot will likely have to fend off newly drafted running back Keaontay Ingram for that role officially during training camp. To James Conner, however, there should be enough of a trickle-down in targets for the lead back to see an addition to his target share over the first half of the season with Hopkins out.
And just to be on the safe side, should Ingram win the number two job during camp and something should happen to James Conner (because we know the kind of injury history the guy has), Ingram could slide into some pretty good usage himself as the lead back for the Cardinals. That’s just some food for thought.
James Conner averaged just 2.6 targets per game last season but that had a lot to do with the roles that were handed out to the backfield. Edmonds isn’t there anymore and the team could opt to get another back involved in the passing game, leaving Conner with his usual two-down “ground and pound”, goal-line workload. Conner averaged 13.5 carries a game during the 2021 season, splitting time with Chase Edmonds on the field between the ’20s. Where Conner did his damage was in the RedZone where he led the Cardinals backfield with 43 attempts inside the 20 for 15 touchdowns. He also added another three targets for another score as well.
All in all, Hopkins’s loss for the Cardinals is huge. There’s no getting around it but the Cardinals aren’t without options. They have more than enough to get the job done and still put up points during the NFL and for fantasy managers. DeAndre Hopkins is a big, reliable piece of what the Cardinals like to do and he’s earned the trust of Kyler Murray but between Brown, Green, Ertz, and James Conner (as well as rookie TE Trey McBride and another season for Rondale Moore), there are just too many ways the Cardinals can attack you.
Looking ahead at the Cardinals’ schedule may give you pause. Their first six opponents (KC, LVR, LAR, CAR, PHI, and SEA) were pretty solid against opposing wide receivers during the 2021 season, surrendering 23 fantasy points per game or lower to opposing wide receivers. However, three teams, in particular, did give up yardage to opposing wide receivers in the Chiefs, Rams, and Seahawks so PPR format leagues get a bit of a boost in that regard.
Marquise Brown in particular is still a priority piece fantasy managers may want to add while his ADP is still on the low side. Currently, his ADP is sitting around 8.01 in PPR formats per FantasyFootballCalculator. That’s a great spot to find a number one wide receiver in a passer-friendly offense that late in the draft. You’ll have some decisions to make in that area with other wide receivers in that range like Courtland Sutton and Allen Robinson but those are good options too especially considering the offenses that they are in with the Broncos and Rams. Brown’s value is sure to climb as fantasy managers start to really dig in on the upside Brown has as the defacto number one guy so you might want to get in on the action while you can.