Christian Kirk Could Be a Late-Round Steal in Fantasy Football
The 2014 rookie wide receiver class really ruined the perception of first-year pass-catchers for everyone. Prior to that season, receivers could be given a first year pass by most, allowing them to bed in and really come to terms with the completely different game they were now playing. Now, after the success of players like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans, a lot more is expected from them in year one.
One first-year player looking to make his way in the NFL is Christian Kirk of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals spent a second round pick on him in this years draft, taking the former Texas A&M Aggie with the 47th overall selection.
But can he reward this high pick with immediate production, and if so, does that make him worthy of interest in season-long fantasy leagues? Let's take a closer look.
Kirk's three seasons with the Aggies saw him amass 234 receptions for 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns. He topped 1,000 yards as a freshman, then had back to back 900+ yard campaigns. His 12.2 yards per reception is not exactly overwhelming, but it is respectable given the level of competition he faced at that level.
The talent and prior production is there, and Kirk could certainly have found himself in worse situations for immediate opportunities to contribute. The Cardinals have lost 245 targets from the 2017 season, and behind the evergreen Larry Fitzgerald they are desperately short of proven and effective performers among their pass-catchers. Of course, the returning David Johnson should see some of these looks, and second-year tight end Ricky Seals-Jones is a player that to target late in fantasy drafts.. But the Cardinals' wide receiver room is far from an impressive sight to behold.
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brice Butler joined the team this offseason, after flashing with his limited opportunities in 2017. According to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can learn more about in our glossary, no wide receiver had a higher Target NEP per target or Reception NEP per target than Butler last season (min 20 targets). His 0.87 Target NEP was ahead of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, while the closest to his 1.26 Reception NEP was Cody Latimer (1.01). But it should be noted that Butler has no track record of consistent production. He has never seen more than 35 targets in his 5 seasons in the NFL; plus, he has been dealing with a foot injury this preseason.
The Cardinals still have the speedy J.J. Nelson, who has eclipsed 500 receiving yards in each of his last 2 seasons. However, Nelson has caught 45.7% of his career targets, and his per-play efficiency leaves a lot to be desired. His -0.10 Target NEP per target in 2017 was the 8th-lowest among the 85 wide receivers to see at least 50 targets. Nelson has a less than stellar average of 1.8 receptions per game in his career, so he's just not a high percentage type of option.
As for Kirk, he has enjoyed himself in his extended preseason opportunities. In the Cardinals' second preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, he finished with 4 catches (on 6 targets) for 49 yards and a touchdown. All total, he's tallied 8 catches for 59 yards and that 1 score through 3 preseason matchups.
A la a Jarvis Landry, Kirk and his skillset could be of use to his quarterbacks close to the line of scrimmage. This is a big deal, too, as it is doubtful that either Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen will have too much time to allow the likes of Nelson or Butler to get down the field, given the porous nature of the Cardinals' offensive line. Our own Jim Sannes has the Cardinals' line ranked 30th of 32, with a "below average" pass-blocking grade. But while this may be deemed a disadvantage for Kirk, and a knock to his redraft value, it should be noted that the Cardinals may be even worse at running the ball.
As a team, we have the Cardinals ranked ranked 20th, with the 4th-worst overall offense by our numbers. No team is projected to have worse ground attack.
This should mean that no matter who's under center for the Cardinals, they may have to rely on the pass game to move their offense. New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is not afraid to take to the air either. In his nine seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator, his teams have a pass-to-run ratio of 1.38. During his time as the head man with the San Diego Chargers, this ratio was all the way up to 1.52. With so many balls in the air, the second man on the Cardinals' target totem pole could see significant opportunities.
At present, that second man would seem to be Kirk.
Our projections don't paint a particularly positive picture of Kirk at present. We have him projected to finish as WR67 and third among rookie receivers (behind Anthony Miller and D.J. Moore. But as the season draws closer, Kirk only tightens his grip on the Cardinals' number-two wide receiver job, and if the Cardinals are forced to take to the air as often as we might think, then Kirk has a great opportunity to outperform this spot.
With an ADP of 14.11 in standard 12-team drafts (per Fantasy Football Calculator), Kirk is not a player that you should go out of your way to get onto your roster as early as possible. In fact, he is far from it.
However, as your drafts enter the late rounds, he is certainly a name to consider in deep PPR leagues. Plus, if the unthinkable should happen and Larry Fitzgerald was to get injured, Kirk would appear to be the player most likely to inherit the bulk of his targets and be the next breakout rookie at the wide receiver spot.