Chase Edmonds set to be RB1 over James Conner in 2021

Pro Football Network’s NFL Insider Adam Beasley wrote in his Five At 5 column that Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds is set to be the RB1 over free agency addition James Conner. Is he being overlooked in fantasy football drafts? Let’s discuss four reasons you should prioritize Edmonds moving forward.

Chase Edmonds’ statistical body of work

Edmonds was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Fordham University. He closed out his career as the Patriot League all-time leading rusher and has the fifth-most rushing yards (5,862) in NCAA FCS history. Edmonds also left as the all-time leader in career touchdowns (74) and rushing touchdowns (67).

The Cardinals running back only played 25% of the offensive snaps from 2018 to 2019. During the 2019 season, with starter David Johnson available only on an emergency basis due to a tender ankle, Edmonds filled the void against the Giants, rushing for a career-high 126 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 attempts. He also caught 2 of 4 targets for 24 yards.

Edmonds had a mini breakout in 2020

In March of 2020, the Cardinals traded away Johnson and two draft picks for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. As a result, Edmonds shared the backfield with Kenyan Drake, who the Cardinals acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins during 2019. Drake averaged 20 opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets), 102 total yards, and 20 PPR fantasy points per game. He finished as an RB2+ in 76% of his eight active games in Arizona. Drake wasn’t as successful in 2020.

Drake averaged 18 opportunities, 72.8 total yards, and 13 PPR fantasy points per game. He was rarely used as a receiver out of the backfield with an average of 2.1 targets per game. Furthermore, Drake averaged 0.71 fantasy points per opportunity, which ranked 42nd among running backs.

Edmonds was tremendous in a complementary role during the 2020 campaign. He averaged 6 rushing attempts and 4.2 targets per game. Edmonds excelled as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 53 of 68 targets. He thrived in the Cardinals’ uptempo offense. The only other running backs who averaged higher fantasy points per opportunity than Edmonds (1.02) last season were J.K. Dobbins (1.04), D’Andre Swift (1.11), Nyheim Hines (1.16), James White (1.20), and Alvin Kamara (1.29).

In 2020, Edmonds finished third in total rushing yards behind quarterback Kyler Murray with 448 yards and 4 touchdowns.

However, Edmonds struggled in Week 9 of last season when provided a workhorse role (Drake dealt with an injury). He only scored 12 PPR points against the Dolphins in a game where he was provided a season-high 28 opportunities.

An abundance of rushing attempts and targets are now available in Arizona

This offseason, Drake signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Raiders. The Cardinals have 239 rushing attempts and 156 targets available entering the 2021 season. Arizona did sign James Conner to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. The former Pittsburgh running back’s career trajectory has trended down since his breakout season back in 2018.

Beasley dropped a bombshell in his column:

“A source tells us that the Cardinals’ training camp battle at running back might be a battle in name only. Rather, Edmonds is the favorite to be the team’s featured back after splitting time with Kenyan Drake in 2020.”

Many fantasy managers look in the rearview mirror instead of straight ahead. Use this to your advantage when it comes to Edmonds in your fantasy football draft.

Edmonds is a value that could exceed expectations in 2021

Edmonds is in a great position to set career highs in multiple statistical areas this season. He could see the largest opportunity share of his career.

The 25-year-old running back could easily outperform his ADP. Edmonds is readily available in the sixth round in 12-team PPR formats, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. This trend is similar in pay-to-play fantasy formats such as the National Fantasy Championship, where Edmonds has an ADP of 67.99 as the RB28 overall.

The Cardinals’ offense is still ascending

Arizona averaged the sixth-most total yards per game (384.6) last season. Yet, the Cardinals only averaged the 14th-most points scored per game (25.6). 2020 was a better representation of what Arizona head coach and offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury’s offense would look like at the NFL level.

Murray matured as a passer in 2020 and continues to be lethal with his rushing ability. Arizona continues to do a great job of bringing in veteran talent and sensational rookies to put him in a position to succeed.

The Cardinals’ running backs averaged 27.4 opportunities per game in 2020, and Edmonds and Drake combined for 84 red-zone opportunities. You should be salivating at the thought of what Edmonds could do in Arizona’s offense with a larger opportunity share. The Cardinals have not yet peaked offensively.

Arizona’s offensive line continues to improve

High-quality offensive line play benefits the entire offense, especially a team’s run game. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler has done a tremendous job of improving the OL since arriving in the desert. General manager Steve Keim has also been proactive in trying to improve the unit — and it shows.

Arizona’s offensive line is better at pass protection than run blocking, but according to Pro Football Reference, the unit excelled at rushing yards before contact per rushing attempt.

The offseason addition of three-time Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson in a trade with the Raiders could catapult the Cardinals’ offensive line to the upper echelon in the NFL.

History tells us that Edmonds is at an optimal age for a peak season

Edmonds was responsible for 34.1% of Fordham’s offensive production during his time there. Edmonds will have a chance to showcase that in 2021 and is at an optimal age to do so.

Since 2010, there have been 74 running backs who have scored 250+ PPR fantasy points. Did you know that 40.5% of them took place during a player’s age-24-or-25 season?

Bringing it all together

Edmonds can be viewed as a high-end RB2 and is a steal at his current ADP, per Beasley’s insight. The Cardinals’ backfield projects for around 430 opportunities. Edmonds could see anywhere from 280 to 300 in 2021 while James Conner will not be provided the number of opportunities many anticipate.

Beasley also pointed out that Conner hasn’t played a full season once in his career. This could open the door for the forgotten Eno Benjamin, who is essentially free in fantasy drafts. He was one of my favorite prospects from the 2020 NFL Draft class and could be more valuable than people realize. The Cardinals selected Benjamin with the No. 222 pick.

He became the first Arizona State player to have 1,000 or more rushing yards in consecutive seasons since Freddie Williams from 1974 to 1975. Benjamin finished his career at the university ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards, touchdowns, attempts, and 100-yard games. He also set Arizona State’s single-game record with 312 rushing yards against Oregon State during the 2018 season.

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Eric is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.

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