Carson Palmer: Still Flying High
“If you’re going to build one, you’d build him.” – Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians on quarterback Carson Palmer from Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series. …
We all have memorable plays or moments we grew up with from watching the National Football League. I’ve been a fan since the early 2000s, but it was always difficult to find coverage of the games. Luckily for me, the NFL started to grow in England and I was able to watch regularly by the mid-2000s. It was a random Willie Ponder kickoff return that might be my first memory of watching live football on TV here in the UK (remember him?) But one of my earliest moments of excitement-turned-despair (now a regular occurrence as an Eagles fan) came in a playoff game on January 8th, 2006.
Carson Palmer was the next big thing. A Heisman Trophy winner, a number one overall pick, and someone who had led the Cincinnati Bengals to a winning record (11-5) for the first time since 1990. He led the league in touchdown passes (32) and had a quarterback rating over 100 in nine consecutive games. The season was a joy to watch. On January 8th, Cincinnati was hosting the rival Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals were buzzing (as was I). On the first pass play of the game, Palmer stepped up and launched a flawless throw down the sideline to receiver Chris Henry for a 66 yard strike — a perfect start.
But Palmer was down. And he wasn’t getting up.
Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled into Palmer’s planted leg, and it wasn’t pretty. Within moments, the stadium was deflated. Within hours, the Bengals season was over. Within days, the team learned Palmer had suffered a potentially career-threatening injury — tears to both his ACL and MCL, and cartilage and meniscus damage.
It has been a decade since then, and Palmer has finally looked back to his best with Bruce Arians and the Cardinals. He was able to rekindle some of that Bengals excitement last year and finally win his first playoff game, and I expect him to continue at this level of quality play until he calls it quits.
Palmer’s Fantasy History
Stats via FFToday.
As you can see, while he had an impressive comeback season from the injury in 2006, things didn’t fare so well after that. The touchdowns started to drop, and interceptions rose. I often referred to him as ‘Mr. Pick Six’ and sure enough, he is in the top-ten all time in interceptions returned for touchdowns. It got ugly in Cincinnati, Palmer struggled in Oakland, and he was acquired by Arizona for next to nothing.
After taking some time to adjust to a new offense and new surroundings in his debut year, Palmer has been on fire. In 2014, before suffering an ACL tear in Week 10, he had won all six of the games he started and threw 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. We got a glimpse of what he’d be able to achieve under Arians’ tutelage. Last year, he finished top-five in fantasy points, was fourth in passing yards, and tied for second in touchdown passes. There is no reason he shouldn’t be able to match or surpass those numbers next year.
Palmer has played the best football of his professional career in Arizona. Of that, there is no doubt. But how consistent has he truly been from week-to-week? In my 2016 Consistent Greatness series at Dynasty League Football, which looks at scoring over the past three years, Palmer finished seventh in QB1/2 (top-24) percentage (87%) and tenth in QB1 (top-12) percentage (47%), but the past two years have been outstanding.
He has scored 20 points or more in 19 of the last 22 games (excluding the playoffs). As Evan Silva pointed out in his Cardinals Fantasy Preview, “Palmer has a 19-3 record with a 46:14 TD-to-INT ratio and 286.2 passing-yard average over the last two seasons”. He’s in a system he’s comfortable with, supported by a strong coach, and surrounded by talented receiving options. This consistency should continue.
We’ve seen the past production, but why should we trust Palmer to continue to play at his best?
First, a ton of credit for the performances should go to Arians. He’s built a dominant team in Arizona, and has brought out the best in his quarterback. Arians’ vertical passing offense makes use of Palmer’s outstanding deep ball and creates tremendous opportunities for huge fantasy scores. His usage of running backs in the passing game allows the quarterback to rack up yards against the most sturdy of pass defenses.
Not only is the scheme extremely beneficial for every player in the offense — the players themselves are talents. Arizona has three receivers being drafted inside the top-32 at the position (according to ADP data from the Fantasy Football Calculator) in Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Floyd has been a long time dynasty darling who continues to underwhelm, but is a strong number three. Fitzgerald finished as the PPR WR7 last year and will do everything it takes to reach his tenth Pro Bowl in 2016, and Brown barely missed out on the top-24 with a sneaky 1,003-yard season in 2015.
Not only is the receiving talent outside strong, running back David Johnson does his best work after the catch, and accumulated almost as many yards through the air (457) as on the ground (581) last season. I have no doubt those receiving numbers will increase as Palmer continues to look his way. With all of these tremendous options, Palmer should have another great year.
The Sky is the Limit
While I don’t think Palmer will finish as the overall QB1 this year, he should be right back up at the top. He is being drafted seventh among quarterbacks, and there is every chance he performs to that level or exceeds it. If you have a chance to acquire him anywhere after that, he will turn out to be a bargain. With a floor of around 20 points over the past two seasons, Palmer can be relied upon as top QB1, and if there’s any way he can be your QB2, you are in for a treat.