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Spotlight: Larry Fitzgerald

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 6th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Larry Fitzgerald has seen the worst it can get, and came away relatively unscathed. Last year at this time, the fantasy world was abuzz about the Arizona Cardinals quarterbacking corps, and not in a good way. Kurt Warner retired, and the team decided to go with Derek Anderson and some unheralded rookies. It didn't take a brain surgeon to raise an eyebrow about what that lack of passing prowess would mean for one of the NFL's best receivers.

The debate raged over whether the Cardinals QBs would impair Fitzgerald's value. Some felt that the uncertainty under center made Fitzgerald far too risky to draft as the #1 option he had traditionally been. Others argued that Fitzgerald's talents were transcendent, and the also ran quarterbacks would target Fitzgerald unyieldingly, meaning that Fitz would thrive from a sheer volume of opportunities, even if every throw wasn't necessarily on the mark.

The result? Fitzgerald wasn't a top 3 draft choice as he usually was, but was still targeted as the 7th or 8th receiver off the board by some optimistic fantasy owner. I'm not sure where you stacked up on the Fitzgerald debate, but for your sake I hope you steered clear - because Fitz finished as the 16th best receiver; far underperforming his draft day value.

The Value of a High Floor
Anytime we draft a player, there's inherent risk. Even the surest things can disappoint you because of an injury. But more often, we have to project forward and even the best of us are humbled year after year at the futility. Situations change, surrounding casts change, coaches turn over, and that can mean last year's star is this year's bust - or vice versa. Fitzgerald had done enough in his first six years to be sure his skill set was elite. And sure enough, in spite of AWFUL quarterbacking, and a disappointing WR16 ranking, Fitzgerald's 2010 season was still impressive:

  • 90 receptions
  • 1,137 yards
  • 12.6 yards per catch
  • 6 TDs

When your WORST CASE scenario is an 1,100-yard, 90 catch season...you are worth targeting at the right spot. Sure, if you expected top 5 numbers, he let you down. But realistically delivering solid WR2 numbers was hardly a massive let down. You could've drafted Fitzgerald early and still won your league. He didn't disappear; he just went from uber elite, to very, very good.

A New Sheriff In Town
The Arizona Cardinals were INEPT offensive last year. They ranked 31st in total yards, and 26th in points scored. The passing game was the main culprit. Three starters (Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and Max Hall) combined from some of the worst numbers you're likely to see in the modern era:

  • 285 completions
  • 50.8% completion rate
  • 2,921 passing yards (31st)
  • 10 TD passes (31st)
  • 19 interceptions (20th)
  • 4.8 yards per attempt (31st)
  • 50 sacks

Now go back up a few paragraphs and take another look at Fitzgerald's totals. They're a LOT more impressive, aren't they?

  • 90 receptions (32% of the team's total)
  • 1,137 yards (39% of the team's total)
  • 6 TD receptions (60% of the team's total)

Enter Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals acquired Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles, immediately inserted him as the starter, and gave him a $63mm contract extension. As an Eagles season ticket holder, I have watched Kolb's story unfold, and while I have long-term doubts about whether he'll ever be an ELITE passer, there's absolutely no question that he's world's better than anything the Cardinals threw out there last year. So while I wouldn't necessarily advocate drafting Kolb as your fantasy QB, I am 1000% sure he'll make Larry Fitzgerald a fantasy #1 again. Kolb is accurate, tutored under the league's best QB coach (in Reid), has a quick release, and in limited time as the Eagles starter we saw he could get the ball to his playmakers (remember DeSean Jackson had back-to-back 100-yard games with Kolb under center).

Offensive Line Issues = A Wild Card
The only fly in the ointment for a Larry Fitzgerald resurgence would be a Kolb injury. The Cardinals allowed 50 sacks last year, and Kolb was taken out by a big hit in Philadelphia, and has shown a propensity to let hits get to him (but let's be honest, how many NFL QBs don't let big hits affect them?). The offensive line is a question mark, but there is reason for optimism. First of all, Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm understand the importance of a strong line. Second, the Cards added Darren Colledge and Pork Chop Womack in free agency, and re-signed underrated center Lyle Sendlein. The team also re-signed Deuce Lutui. Effectively the interior should be rock solid. The tackles are more of a question mark, and the Cards NEED Levi Brown to live up the hype that led to his being selected in the 1st round of the 2007 draft.

Positives

  • Fitzgerald endured a nightmare QB situation in 2010, yet still managed 90 catches, 1100 yards and a WR16 ranking...he's got the highest floor of anyone at the position
  • Kevin Kolb is a major step forward in the quality of his passer
  • With Steve Breaston signing in Kansas City, Fitzgerald is assured once again of being among the most targeted receivers in the NFL

Negatives

  • The Cardinals line was ineffective last year and the Cardinals do not have a proven backup behind Kevin Kolb
  • Todd Heap was signed and gives the Cards a legitimate red zone alternative
  • The Cardinals run game needs to provide balance, or defensive coordinators will throw everyone and the kitchen sink at Fitzgerald

Final thoughts

Larry Fitzgerald is giddy. He's apparently talking long-term contract with the Cardinals, feeling that they've done enough to make his life easier. They added a high upside QB and a credible tight end, and that means Fitzgerald should return to the status we've all come to expect -- a top 5 overall fantasy receiver. Let's hope there are enough owners in your league that doubt Kolb's effectiveness, and let Fitzgerald fall into the late 2nd/early 3rd round. If that happens, make sure you grab him and enjoy the rewards.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Shutout said:

When a player's reasonable absolute floor (if you watched the Cards last year you KNOW it really couldn't have been a situation that was working against Fitz moreso than it was...terrible year for the Cards) is that he finishes with 90/1100+/6 (FF WR10-12), AND he was not healthy to start the season AND he is an absolute class act that gets it and runs ZERO risk of being a knucklehead, I simply don't know how people can really even have a discussion on him. Fitz is one of the ultra-rare football players that should just be set on automatic and put in the category of "water is wet", "suns gonna rise", Fitz is a top 10 elite WR". I really think people should make better use of their time and discuss things that actually have a chance of ending up dramatically one way or the other.

There were rediculous posts and notions abounding last year about avoiding Fitz and drafting him with the likes of commoners and replaceable players and yet again all he did was produce. There was a really interesting post where people posted their league winning rosters and, coincidentally or not, a HUGE number of those rosters were ones where peope had Fitz. It appears that a lot of the people who were defending him were able to buy low or draft when other people passed on him, getting their stud WR/RBs and then adding Fitz as their "#2" Wr.

rzrback77 said:

Larry Fitzgerald sparks a lot of conversation this off-season because of his perceived down turn post Kurt Warner. There are some who say that the QB play can't get much worse (and I agree) so let's examine a few stats and see what was the biggest reason the Fits dropped all the way to WR 17 in non-ppr and WR 12 in ppr a year ago.

First, lets see what happened to his targets.

07 - 167 targets in 15 games 11.1 per game
08 - 154 targets in 16 games 9.6 per game
07 - 151 targets in 16 games 9.4 per game
07 - 172 targets in 16 games 10.7 per game

His first season without Anquan Boldin and his targets spiked upward over the past few seasons. Let's look at catch percentage, which is mostly dismissed around here, but might indicate at least a small decrease in QB performance.

07 - 100 catches 167 targets 59.9%
08 - 96 catches 154 targets 62.3%
09 - 97 catches 151 targets 64.2%
10 - 90 catches 172 targets 52.3% Yes, I think that there is room for upside here

And finally with the overall poor offensive performance for the Cardinals, lets look at TDs

07 - 10 TDs
08 - 12 TDs
09 - 13 TDs
10 - 6 TDs

That's two areas for almost certain improvement for Fitz with any improvement overall for the Cardinals offense.

I will allow my confidence in Fitzgerald as a player and my confidence that Arizona knows that they need a QB, as well as the fact that there should be at least a couple and maybe more available that Fitzgerald will see improved stats in 2011.


Larry Fitzgerald projections

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Jason Wood9512401000
Message board consensus9111811000