James Conner Plods to the Cardinals, Chase Edmonds' 2021 Fantasy Outlook Takes a Slight Hit - Roto Street Journal
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James Conner Plods to the Cardinals, Chase Edmonds’ 2021 Fantasy Outlook Takes a Slight Hit

We didn’t actually think the Cardinals would 100 percent rely on Chase Edmonds as the team’s lone workhorse, and our assumptions came to fruition when they signed James Conner to a one-year deal. Conner, who hasn’t put together a legitimate fantasy season since 2018, will serve as the Kenyan Drake-lite replacement in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense as the likely early-down/short-yardage back. Consequently, Chase Edmonds’ 2021 fantasy outlook will take a hit.

Chiefly, Edmonds TD upside, already low, is now severely capped:

Conner has always had a nose for the endzone, and should get the first RB crack in all goal-to-go situations. Nevermind Kyler Murray, who ran for an absurd 11 TDs in 2021. Edmonds did haul in four scores, so it’s not like he’ll never sniff the end zone. Still, his ceiling for six is minimal.

Last year, Drake carried the ball 239 times for 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also added 25 receptions on 31 targets for 137 yards, which was good enough for RB14 in half PPR leagues. Still, he was wildly inconsistent, with just three Top-12 RB performances despite a late first price tag.

Meanwhile, Conner finished as the RB26 with 721 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground and also tallied 35 receptions for 215 yards. But with little burst to show (seven carries of 20-plus yards since 2019) and injuries adding up, he’s unlikely to slide right into Drake’s role. In that sense, Edmonds is still due for a volume boost.

In March, Kliff Kingsbury met with reporters and was asked about Edmonds’ potential workload increase if/when Drake moved on from the team in free agency.

“As far as Chase goes, you’ve seen when he’s had his opportunity, he’s played at a starting running back level,” Kingsbury said at the time. “We all understand that he’s unfortunately been nicked up a couple times, which we want to keep him on the field. But we have all the confidence in the world in Chase and him being able to be the bell cow if that’s how this plays out.”

In 2020, Edmonds was able to benefit from Drake’s inconsistencies and injury issues. Edmonds totaled 850 total yards and five touchdowns, and also outpaced Drake’s 4.1 yards per touch with a 5.7 average. He also started four games last season, including his most recent Week 9 start when he rushed for 70 yards and added three receptions for 18 yards.

That wasn’t the first time Kingsbury talked up Edmonds. When Drake was spotted in a walking boot during training camp, Kingsbury had this to say about his backup running back.

“We all feel like he’s a starting running back in this league, and he does, too,” Kingsbury said in August 2020.

“We felt that confident in what Chase brings. When he had his opportunities, he shined, and he continues to shine. He can catch it, run it, block, play special teams, and he’s really bright football-wise. He’s everything you want,” Kingsbury added.

From a real-life perspective, the Cardinals will benefit from both players set to become unrestricted free agents in 2022. Edmonds will want to prove he’s more than just a pass-catching back, while Conner will want to prove he’s healthy and can carry the rock over 200 times.

Even with the veteran in the fold, Edmonds still has RB2 upside due to his pass-catching chops, established trust with Murray, and Conner’s injury history. If (when) Conner misses time, Edmonds will carry a 25+ FP ceiling.

Still, the great Rich Hribar‘s comparison might be most accurate:

The Cardinals simply don’t view Edmonds as the workhorse Twitter so desperately wants him to be. Plus, in the absolute worst-case scenario, Conner could revert back to his 2018 workhorse year when he snagged 55 balls for 497 yards, and takeover as a feature back. Don’t discount that Conner reunites with his former position coach James Saxon, who coached the Steelers RBs in 2017 and 2018, and likely recruited the bruising rusher to the desert. Under Saxon’s tutelage, Conner earned Pro Bowl nods and fantasy admirers for accruing 1470 YFS and 13 TDs across just 13 games.

While Edmonds is still the back to own, his previous fifth round price tag seems foolish now. He slides down to RB27 & 83 overall (-26 ECR) on The Wolf’s latest Big Board. Meanwhile, Conner ranks as the RB34, and gains some upside with potential high TD-equity and (slim) three-down upside in this blooming offense.

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