Is Carson Palmer Being Undervalued in Fantasy Football Drafts?

Going in the very last rounds of drafts this season, is Carson Palmer worth taking a chance on as a late round quarterback?

You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.

This is especially true in fantasy football. Sometimes our perception and gut feelings on a player cause us to unjustly undervalue him. And in these very instances, cost and value fail to align, creating great opportunities for savvy fantasy football managers to profit.

Take, for examplem the per-game averages for the following two quarterbacks from last season:

Pass Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Pass NEP/P FPPG Age ADP
Player A 309.5 2.1 1.1 69.2% 0.17 20.0 36 55
Player B 277.0 2.2 0.4 61.7% 0.18 20.0 35 136

While Player A and Player B averaged nearly the same number of fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues to one other, and though Player A was slightly less efficient than Player B in terms of our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back metric (to learn more about NEP check out our  glossary), Player A is still going over 80 picks before Player B in fantasy football drafts this year.

This is despite Player A being a full year older than Player B, and the fact that Player A just lost two of his top targets from last season to offseason trades.

Player A, as some of you may have guessed, is Drew Brees.

And Player B, doing his best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation getting no respect, is Carson Palmer (in the five full games he completed last year).

A QB1 When Healthy

When Palmer was on the field last season, he could hang with the best of them. He never threw for fewer than 240 yards in a single game, including his Week 10 bout against the Rams where he would suffer a season-ending injury early in the fourth quarter. And in the five games that he completed, he threw for 2, 2, 2, 2, and 3 touchdowns against just 2 total interceptions.

Not bad numbers for a quarterback everyone seems to think is washed up.

Indeed, through his first five games in 2014, Palmer was on pace for a 4,400-yard, 35-touchdown, 6-interception year, and his extrapolated 319.4 fantasy points would have ranked him as the sixth-best quarterback, just 0.6 points behind Drew Brees' totals.

Even if we take into account his injured Week 10 game into these projections, his extrapolated numbers of 4,336 yards and 29 touchdowns would still have had him sitting as the eighth best quarterback in the league. While definitely impressive, these numbers actually would not have been too far off from his 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2013.

Much of this success can be attributed to offensive guru Bruce Arians and his pass-heavy approach.

Despite being forced to start the likes of Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, and Ryan Lindley -- whose combined -0.02 Passing NEP per drop back would have ranked them as the sixth worst quarterback out of the 38 signal-callers with at least 200 pass attempts last season -- Arizona's 1.50 pass-to-run ratio still ranked them in the top-half of the league in this category.

And with a quarterback of Palmer's caliber back under center for the Cardinals this season, expect this number to go up.

Beyond this, Bruce Arians'  propensity to call for the big play gives Palmer huge upside. Last season, exactly one-fifth of Palmer's pass attempts went 21 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. Compare this with known deep ball aficionados Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matthew Stafford, whose pass attempts in this range accounted for 9.2%, 10.4%, and 8.8% of their throws, respectively.

Moreover, six of Palmer's 11 touchdowns actually came on throws traveling further than 20 yards down the field.

Despite his age, it's clear that when he steps onto the field Carson Palmer still has

Two Key Words: When Healthy

Now there's a huge elephant in the room that would explain why -- despite such great performances on Sundays -- Palmer is so highly undervalued in fantasy football leagues.

One look at his extensive medical history reveals that Palmer poses an  incredible injury risk to fantasy football managers.

In what was at the time thought to be a career-threatening injury, Palmer tore his ACL and MCL in the wild card round of the 2005 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, in 2008, multiple injuries including a torn ligament in his elbow forced him to miss three-fourths of the season. And just last season, in a what Palmer describes as a "freak accident" against the Rams, Palmer once again tore his ACL, shelving him for the remainder of the season.

And I hate to break it to you guys, but Carson Palmer ain't getting any younger.

But despite all this, perhaps the hate for Palmer has gone too far. With an  ADP in the late 11th round in standard-scoring, 12-team leagues, Palmer offers just enough upside to warrant a selection late in drafts even with all the risks involved.

Playmakers in the Passing Game

Injury concerns aside, going into his 13th season in the league, Carson Palmer finds himself surrounded by the right supporting cast to succeed this year. Second-year man John Brown, who I've pegged to have a breakout season and emerge as the Cardinal's best wide receiver, provides Palmer with not only a viable deep threat but also has the potential to be the NFC West version of T.Y. Hilton.

Once a perennial Pro Bowler, while veteran Larry Fitzgerald may have lost a step or two due to age, he still provides Palmer with a dependable option in the short-to-intermediate game, and his 0.65 Reception NEP per target last season was actually right in line with his 0.68 career average.

And one year removed from a 1,000-yard receiving season, the young and still talented Michael Floyd gives the Cardinals that wild-card that could put it all together in 2015 and give defenses fits as they focus on trying to stop the team's two aforementioned wideouts.

Should his wideouts fail to get open deep, Palmer also has a few nice security blankets rolling out of the backfield.

Andre Ellington has averaged 43 receptions and 383 receiving yards per season over his first two years in the league. This is despite limited work during his rookie year and after missing five games due to injury over this two year timespan. But should Ellington go down to injury yet again, rookie David Johnson can serve as a more than capable fill-in. Our Editor-In-Chief JJ Zachariason has called Johnson just a larger version of Ellington.

A seasoned veteran in the league that has demonstrated he can still make efficient decisions on the field, Palmer will know exactly how to use these weapons the Cardinals have placed around him this season.

A Draft Day Steal for Those Living the Stream

If there's one group that may benefit the most from Palmer's depressed value due to his injury risks, it's those looking to stream quarterbacks this season.

Palmer opens the season against the Saints 30th-ranked pass defense at home, before traveling to Chicago to face the Bears 20th-ranked pass defense in Week 2. Palmer then gets another home game in Week 3 against a decimated 49ers squad whose pass defense is generously ranked 14th in the league by  our projections.

While Palmer may not be a great bet to play all 16 games this season, owners going the streaming route won't need him to. With such favorable matchups to start the year, owners could get some high quality QB1 games out of him before the injury bug bites him again.

But should Palmer stay healthy and continue to build off of his strong, but short-lived 2014 season, owners taking a chance on the veteran in Arizona could have a high-end QB1 on their hands, all for the price of an extremely late draft pick.