Daily Focus: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald should continue to produce in Arizona
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald extensions make sense for Cardinals: The Arizona Cardinals handed out a pair of extensions Friday to two of their top offensive players in QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald. Both moves make sense given the team’s strong year, during which both players graded excellently, especially Palmer. He finished the regular season with his highest grade, by far, out of the 10 seasons PFF has charted. In addition to a second-ranked overall grade, Palmer’s 8.7 YPA topped the NFL, while his passer rating (104.6) and touchdown total (35) both ranked in the top three at the position. Even more impressive was that he maintained a second-rankedadjusted completion rate (72.1 percent), despite facing pressure at the third-highest rate in the league – 42.5 percent of his dropbacks.
Fitzgerald likewise stood out, with the eighth-ranked overall and no.1 blocking grade among WRs. The latter marking his tenth-straight positive season as a blocker. In 137 targets, Arizona’s duo combined for 1210 yards (10th-ranked) with 57 passes gaining either first down or touchdown yardage, the ninth-most among QB-WR pairs. The resulting 119.3 passer rating ranked even higher at third.
Palmer and Fitzgerald were part of the NFL’s best deep-passing offense, but most often connected between the numbers, within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, combining for five touchdowns and more than 600 hundred yards there.
Ragland injury could be costly for Bills: Friday’s big news out of Buffalo was that rookie LB Reggie Ragland left practice with a knee injury. Although the severity hasn’t yet been reported, that’s a potentially devastating blow to a defense already dealing with injuries to several key players in the front-seven, a list that includes Manny Lawson, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and the team’s first-rounder, Shaq Lawson.
Last season off-ball linebacker was a definite weakness for the Bills, as their top two players in terms of snap count – Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham – finished the year with overall grades that ranked 90th and 81st at the position. Ragland, conversely, ended his final college season with the fourth-best grade among FBS linebackers and above-average marks in all facets (pass-rush, run defense, coverage). The Bills also added former Titan Zach Brown in free agency to improve their linebacker group, and if Ragland does miss significant time, that puts more onus on their new acquisition, who finished 2015 with the 30th overall and 13th-ranked coverage grade. Especially since the Bills are thin behind him, with only the aforementioned Preston Brown alongside a handful of players who each saw less than 100 snaps last year.
Veteran signings help roster fringes: Among several signings late in the week was corner Alan Ball heading to Arizona. Apart from Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals don’t have a whole lot of experience at outside corner. Of the players left on the roster from 2015, Justin Bethel saw the most snaps opposite Peterson, but had played just 117 career snaps coming into 2015. He graded well through Week 13, but a poor finish dropped him to just above average in coverage for the season and outside of the top-60 corners. While Ball also graded around average over his last two seasons (763 snaps) in Jacksonville and Chicago, he brings a career 3,747 snaps and is only three years removed from a top-15 coverage grade (2013). This could be an interesting position to watch as preseason ramps up.
The Saints also picked up veteran fullback John Kuhn, a move that followed news of Austin Johnson, the New Orleans’ main FB in 2015, leaving Friday’s practice on a cart. Kuhn, who spent the last nine seasons in Green Bay, won’t offer much as a rushing or receiving threat out of the backfield – he’s carrying a multiple-season streak of negative receiving grades. But he’s a solid run-blocker with strong career grades there, while two of his best seasons came recently in 2013 and 2014. Overall, the move makes sense given Johnson’s injury and Sean Payton’s above-average tendency to use fullbacks; over the last 10 seasons, only seven teams have played more snaps with someone aligned at fullback than New Orleans. That total has decreased in recent years, but still puts them above-average when compared to the rest of the NFL.
In other NFC South news, Atlanta added former Saint WR Lance Moore to a unit that PFF ranked 17th heading into training camp. Moore posted above-average overall grades in each of his final six seasons with the Saints (2008-2013), but his production has been poor since leaving the team with two subpar years in Pittsburgh and Detroit. He’s coming off of a 98th-ranked 2015 season with the Lions, but that was actually better than his new teammate, Mohamed Sanu, graded overall, while the rest of Atlanta’s WR group also has question marks outside of Julio Jones. Although his most recent play suggests he might not contribute much, Moore should at least make training camp more competitive for the rest of the Falcons receivers.