Carson Palmer is not an elite fantasy QB
With the way that the 2015 season ended for the Arizona Cardinals (and specifically Carson Palmer), you’d think that some may reconsider putting Palmer inside of their elite fantasy quarterbacks for 2016.
Not only did Palmer struggle in the playoffs where he had just 23.3 fantasy points over the two games they played, but he also struggled over the final three games of the regular season where he didn’t reach 17 fantasy points in any single game.
So the question arises: “Is Carson Palmer among the elite fantasy quarterbacks?”
A year after the Cardinals played merry-go-round at the quarterback position, Palmer returned to the starting lineup to find arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL. Both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd each had 1,000 yard-seasons under their belt, while sophomore John Brown managed to total nearly 700 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie season, with a variety of underachieving quarterbacks.
On top of that, the Cardinals had invested a third-round pick in pass-catching running back David Johnson, as well as added depth by signing Chris Johnson via free agency.
Palmer was drafted as the QB20 in 2015 and turned out to be one of the biggest steals, considering his No. 5 finish. The way he got there is what might make some wonder whether or not he should be considered a top-five quarterback in 2016.
Palmer played all 16 regular season games in 2015, and in those games he was able to accumulate 15.5 or more fantasy points in 14 of them, which was the most in the NFL (Cam Newton and Tom Brady both had 13). While that is obviously a great accomplishment, it’s not what sets you apart from the pack.
Palmer is basically the definition of a cash-game option in daily fantasy because of the high floor that he offers each and every week, but he lacks what you want out of a top-five quarterback in season-long fantasy.
When drafting a quarterback with one of your early round draft picks, you not only want consistency, but you want them to carry you in some weeks when another player struggles. Palmer didn’t do that in 2015. As a matter of fact, Palmer has never been the type of quarterback to carry your fantasy team.
Over the last five years, Palmer has played in 63 regular season games between the Raiders and the Cardinals. In those games, Palmer has managed to reach 26 fantasy points in just two of them. One of them came back in 2012 with the Raiders, while the other one came this year against the Browns.
Among the quarterbacks who had multiple 26-point performances in 2015 were Matthew Stafford (two), Marcus Mariota (two), Derek Carr (three), Blake Bortles (three) and Tyrod Taylor (three). As you can see, there was no shortage of quarterbacks who offered higher upside than Palmer on a weekly basis, regardless of schedule.
When looking over the last five years, the results are staggering. In the 63 games Palmer has played over the last five years, he topped 24 fantasy points just three times, or 4.8 percent of the time. Looking at all 32 starting quarterbacks (that we know right now) heading into 2016 season, just two of them have provided less upside than Palmer. Those two quarterbacks are Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.
What’s in the past is in the past, but in 2015, Palmer had a relatively easy schedule as well. On top of playing against the 49ers and the Rams twice, the Cardinals had games against the Saints, Bears, Steelers, Ravens, Browns and Eagles. So five of his 15 games that counted in fantasy seasons were against bottom-nine defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. While that may not seem like much, it’s exactly one third of the season.
His touchdown output of 35 was easily the highest of his career, and they accounted for 45.4 percent of his fantasy points, which is well above the 40 percent average of starting quarterbacks in the league over the last five years. If you evened out his touchdown percentage down to the league average, he would have finished as the No. 10 fantasy quarterback instead of the top-five finish he had.
Looking forward into 2016, Palmer will be turning 37 late in the season, which tells you that he has been extremely competent in his career in order to stick around this long. But looking at his body of work, Palmer may have hit his peak in 2015.
His fantasy points per pass attempt had been steady from 2006-2014, ranging between 0.38 and 0.45, but it jumped all the way up to 0.54 in 2015. That is among the best in the league, but his past tells us that this was more of a one-time scenario. His previous career high was 0.50, which he achieved way back in 2005, his third year in the NFL. He had also not thrown more than 26 touchdowns since back in 2006.
All of these factoids on Palmer haven’t even mentioned the fact that he has missed 17 games over the last five years, so his durability leaves something to be desired. Quarterbacks are typically the ones that you don’t have to worry about missing many games.
On top of everything, Chris Johnson (-11.5) rated as PFF’s worst running back in 2015, forcing Palmer and the passing game to do more than they will be asked to do in 2016. The Cardinals have one of the best defenses in the league and have now found their foundation in the backfield with David Johnson, so look for them to rely on the run game near the goal line more than they did in 2015.
Something can be said of his consistency, and while it deserves to be recognized, Palmer is simply not among the elite quarterbacks in fantasy football. When breaking it down, you need to question whether or not he is even in the top 10 at his position.