Backfield Battles: Cardinals

Backfield Battle ARI

By Jacob Bourgeois; Twitter: @JacobBourgieFFB

This is the second in a series on “backfield battles,” where I’ll be looking at the less desirable situations to see if “there be gold in them hills.”  I’ll review the backfield narrative(s) leading up to this offseason, the offseason results & impacts, and then finish with projections/conclusions. The first one was on NEP: Patriots.

Stats are from www.espn.com; www.fantasypros.com; and www.pro-football-reference.com.  

Timeline

2018

HC: Steve Wilks OC: Mike McCoy QB: Josh Rosen

David Johnson: 258 att. 940 yds, 10 TDs, 50 Rec. / 76 Tgts, 3.6 YPC (16 games)

Chase Edmonds: 60 att., 208 yds, 2 TDs, 20 Rec / 23 Tgts, 5.1 YPC (16 games) // PFF 60.5

RESULT: The team finished 3 – 13 and placed 4th in the NFC West missing the playoffs for the 3rd straight year.    

PIT:

James Conner: 215 att., 973 yds, 13 TDs, 55/71 rec/tgts 4.5 YPC (13games) // PFF 72.1

2019

HC/OC: Kliff Kingsbury QB: Kyler Murray

David Johnson: 94 att. 345 yds, 6 TDs, 36 Rec. / 47 Tgts, 3.7 YPC (13 games)

Kenyan Drake: 123 att., 643 yds, 8 TDs, 28 Rec./35 Tgts, 5.2 YPC (8 games)

Kyler Murray: 93 att., 544 yds, 4 TDs, 5.8 YPC (16 games)

Chase Edmonds: 60 att., 303 yds, 5 TDs, 12 Rec/ 21 Tgts, 5.1 YPC (13 games) // PFF 69.7

RESULT: The team finished 5 – 10 – 1 and placed 4th in the NFC West missing the playoffs for the 4th straight year.    

PIT:

James Conner: 116 att., 464 yds, 7 TDs, 34/38 rec/tgts 4.0 YPC (10 games) // PFF 73.6

2020

HC/OC: Kliff Kingsbury QB: Kyler Murray

Kenyan Drake: 239 att., 955 yds, 10 TDs, 25 Rec./31 Tgts, 4.0 YPC (15 games)

Kyler Murray: 133 att., 819 yds, 11 TDs, 6.2 YPC (16 games)

Chase Edmonds: 97 att., 448 yds, 5 TDs, 53 Rec/67 Tgts, 4.6 YPC (16 games) // PFF 69.2

Jonathan Ward: 1 Rec/1 Tgt, 11 Yards, 1 TD

Eno Benjamin: healthy scratch

RESULT: The team finished 8 – 8 and placed 3rd in the NFC West missing the playoffs for the 5th straight year.    

PIT:

James Conner: 169 att., 720 yds, 6 TDs, 35/43 rec/tgts 4.3 YPC (13 games) // PFF 68.0

2021

HC/OC: Kliff Kingsbury QB: Kyler Murray

Chase Edmonds – ECR 26 – 5’9” 210 lbs. – 4.4 YPC on 217 att. in ARI + 85 Rec, 12 TDs (over 3 yrs)

IN: James Conner – ECR 35 – 6’1” 229 lbs. – 4.3 YPC on 532 att. in PIT + 124 Rec, 26 TDs (over 4 yrs)

Eno Benjamin – ECR 92 – 5’9” 207 lbs. – 5.0 YPC on 576 att. Arizona State + 82 Rec, 31 TDs (over 3 yrs)

Jonathan Ward – N/A – 6’0” 202 lbs. – 5.4 YPC on 423 attempts Central Michigan + 98 Rec, 32 TDs (over 4 yrs)

OUT: Kenyan Drake

SUMMARY

The reality of our lives in Arizona is:

  1. Kyler Murray is an elite rushing QB. 
  2. Kliff Kingsbury has featured a committee backfield dating back to 2017 at Texas Tech.
  3. Offseason reports talk about Conner and Chase as being a 1-2 punch.

Barring injury, carries are going to be split (at least) 3 ways.  Both James Conner and Chase Edmonds have demonstrated the ability to JAG out production on the ground and have proven chops as pass catchers.  Conner has the size advantage at the goal line to both Kyler and Chase, but Kyler boasts the elite quickness good for 11 TDs on the ground in 2020.

James Conner was arguably bad in PIT in 2020 and has looked like JAG since coming back from injury.  We hold-out hope because of his great pass-catching, size, and the PIT O-line.

Chase Edmonds, having been in Kliff’s system for the last two years, should have the edge for “game starts” and has been more efficient than Conner, albeit as a compliment.     

Others: Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward (222nd pick, and UDFA in 2020 respectively) both have the production, size, and athletic profiles of Chase Edmonds.  If Chase were to go down, one of them would get a chance to back-up Conner.

CONCLUSION

Contrary to the ADP, James Conner, if anyone, is the back to own on the Cardinals in 2021 solely because of his goal-line / TD upside.  Given Kliff’s historical committee usage and Kyler’s rushing ability and the Chase clones behind Chase, there is no break-out potential.  That said, Kenyan Drake’s 2020 production is a decent ceiling (RB14 12.0 PPG). 

The chance that Eno Benjamin or Jonathan Ward run away with the job is one potential break-out narrative, but their lack of involvement in 2021 (especially Eno’s) is concerning.  It feels like there’s a better chance that a veteran is signed off waivers and given the job (Frank Gore!).

For Chase Edmonds, it remains to be seen if Kliff will use him on the goal line, but if James Conner goes down, there is a scenario where his 2019 Week 7 showing against the giants (27 carries, 126 yards, 3 TDs) leads to fantasy championships.  But that week is a massive career outlier, and was against the New York Giants.   

My take-away: don’t go zero RB. 

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