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Spotlight: Larry Fitzgerald

posted by Chris Smith on Jul 15th


Chris Smith's thoughts

Larry Fitzgerald is a quarterback away from being ranked alongside of Calvin Johnson. Two seasons ago, Fitzgerald was saddled with horrible quarterback play. The Cardinals struggled to get anything going with duds such as Derek Anderson throwing the ball into the grass, stands or opposing defenders with regularity. Even saddled with that albatross however, Fitzgerald still managed to haul in 90 receptions for 1,137 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sure that was disappointing to fantasy owners who had anticipated better numbers but when you factor in the complete ineptitude from the quarterback position, Fitzgerald put up staggering numbers.

Last season, while the passing game was better, both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were learning to play for the Cardinals on the fly and the result was inconsistent quarterback play. There were some highs and some lows from the pair but Fitzgerald excelled through it all, kept working hard, battling on every play and finished as the 5th best fantasy receiver with 80 receptions for 1,411 yards and 8 touchdowns.

CONSISTENT TOP-FIVE FANTASY PERFORMER
Fitzgerald has finished as a top-five fantasy receiver in five of his eight seasons. That is a remarkable run and he has averaged 1,200 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns throughout his eight-year career. In his last five NFL seasons, his only poor season was the aforementioned 2010 season in which he finished as the 16th best fantasy receiver despite the unacceptable play from the quarterback position. He has one season in which he was the top fantasy receiver, another in which he was the second-best fantasy receiver and three seasons in which he finished as the fifth-best fantasy receiver. Without question that is wonderful consistency no matter how you slice it.

UNMATCHED WORK ETHIC AND DRIVE TO BE THE BEST
As his gaudy numbers during the Cardinals Super Bowl run illustrated, Fitzgerald is a special player that is almost unstoppable when everything falls into place. While he is blessed with fantastic natural abilities, his work ethic and determination is amongst the finest to have ever played the game.

BLESSED WITH TREMENDOUS BLEND OF SIZE, SPEED, and NATURAL TALENT
If you put up the measurables of the prototypical NFL receiver, they wouldn't be far off from Larry Fitzgerald's own. At 6'3" and 223 pounds, he has the height to make the catch over defenders and the strength to create his own separation. He is also a beast to bring down in open space and his quickness and speed are similar to receivers 30+ pounds lighter than he is. He is fluid in and out of his lanes, cuts well and really is difficult, if not impossible, to cover in one-on-one situations.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR FITZGERALD TO RETURN TO THE TOP-TWO IN 2012?
In all honesty, unless the quarterbacking play does the unexpected and completely goes into the toilet this season, Fitzgerald will get his receptions, yards and touchdowns necessary to finish as a top-five fantasy producer. However he can improve on even his solid numbers from last year and here is what needs to happen...

#1 -- KOLB AND/OR SKELTON IMPROVE SIGNIFICANTLY
There is a real battle for quarterback touches in Arizona between two young, talented players eager to grasp the reins and run with it. The challenging battle between them should help one or both of them to significantly elevate their play in 2012 which will obviously help Fitzgerald to put up monster statistics.

#2 -- THE ADDITION OF ROOKIE WR MICHAEL FLOYD PAYS IMMEDIATE DIVIDENDS
The Cardinals have not had a tremendous receiving option across from Fitzgerald in some time enabling defenses to key up on Fitzgerald and roll coverage over to him. If Micahel Floyd can come in and help to keep defenses honest, it will have a very positive impact on Fitzgerald's game.

#3 - THE OFFENSIVE LINE PASS PROTECTS ADEQUATELY
One of the keys will be for the offensive line play to continue to improve in pass protection. This offensive line has been gradually building from horrible to average to decent and if they keep blitzing defenders off of the quarterback, Fitzgerald almost always will get open.

Positives

  • Incredible work ethic and drive to be the best
  • Amazing blend of size, speed and tenacity with soft hands
  • Has been remarkably consistent since entering the NFL

Negatives

  • If Michael Floyd fails to make an impact, defenses will continue to roll everything over to Fitzgerald's side
  • If quarterback play fails to improve this season, Fitzgerald will be hard pressed to match last year's impressive numbers
  • Offensive line play must continue to improve going forward

Final thoughts

Larry Fitzgerald is as talented as Calvin Johnson but has been stuck in a below average passing offense over the past two seasons. Put him with Matthew Stafford or Tom Brady and he likely is the top-rated receiver in fantasy circles. With the quarterback battle raging in Arizona, the quarterback play should elevate this season and everything is in place for Larry Fitzgerald to solidify his place as a top-three fantasy monster.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

fightingillini said:

Fitzgerald is a safe option as a top WR. You know he will catch 85+ passes. You know he will catch 8+ TDs. And his upside is through the roof. If Kolb can somehow get his head of out his ###, Fitzgerald can have a year like Megatron did last year. Issue is price. I will have a hard time spending a 2nd round pick on him when the WR pool after Megatron is fairly wide. There are 10 or more WRs that can produce the projection I give Fitzgerald.

FreeBaGel said:

The people that are saying you can just grab one of those other guys 12-24 picks later and get the same kind of production as Fitz are committing one of fantasy football's biggest mistakes: they're immediately forgetting the lessons they learned just last year.

Thinking that you can count on those guys to produce at Fitz's level this year is a huge mistake. You might get a guy who produces at that level, but there's just as good a chance (if not a better one) that you won't. There's a reason Fitz is drafted 12-24 picks earlier despite having similar stats last year and it's not because of his name. It's because he's the closest thing that there is to a guarantee at WR. He rarely misses time, and when he's in he always produces no matter who his QB is, and no matter who gets injured around him.v

Here's the point about last year. You could have made the exact same argument then. There was another group of WRs in the exact same ADP spot that guys like Cruz, etc are now. Most had put up similar numbers to Fitz the year before and most had the same "I'll wait 12-24 picks and get this guy who put up similar numbers" argument applied to them. Here they are...

Greg Jennings (949/9)
Vincent Jackson (1106/9)
Mike Wallace (1193/8)
DeSean Jackson (961/4)
Miles Austin (579/7)
Reggie Wayne (960/4)
Dwayne Bowe (1159/5)

Not a single one of them came anywhere close to Fitz's fantasy numbers, and several barely eclipsed half of Fitzgerald's fantasy points. There are plenty of excuses to go around. Some missed games. Some had their QBs get injured and were stuck with a poor backup QB. Some had other WRs around them emerge and steal too many looks. Some ended up on a team in disarray. But that's the thing. There are so many things that can go wrong, and Fitzgerald is immune (or at least resistant) to most if not all of them.

With Fitzgerald, you're paying for safety. Whether or not that's worth it to you is your own prerogative and everyone has a different strategy on that front. Personally, I'm more of a risk taker with my drafting so I'd rather wait a round or two and take a risk with one of the other guys. But that doesn't mean I'm not aware that it's a big risk, which a lot of people in this thread don't seem to be grasping. When you wait 12-24 picks to get a "Fitzgerald-like" wide receiver you're going to be picking from a pool of players where maybe 1 or 2 are actually going to end up being "Fitzgerald-like" or better. Another couple are going to be worse but still reasonable starters, and another couple are going to be total busts. That's the price you're paying by waiting, and assuming that all or anywhere near all of those guys are going to repeat last year's performance is a huge fallacy.

renesauz said:

Still a top 3 WR. Why are people expecting Kolb to suck as bad as last year? 88/1340/11 with a floor no more than 5/150/3 lower and a ceiling much higher. Don't #@$#% around, just draft him and know your WR1 slot is well covered week in and out.

FF Ninja said:

I've got to agree that you pay an ADP12 price tag for Fitz due to how safe he is to put up numbers. It reminds me of how Peyton was perpetually the QB1 but he usually ended up QB3. Or how LT was the RB1 when he usually finished 2 or 3. Consistency is valuable. You're going to pay a WR2 price for him and you might end up with WR5 numbers. That works out well for smart FF players. We like to min value later in the draft. That's why you do your homework. That's why you've got a list of sleepers. You aren't winning your draft in the first two rounds. You just want those guys to produce.

That being said, I'd still rather have AJ. I expect 1300/8 out of Fitz. AJ has had injury problems, but I'll still take my chances with him. Fitz only managed 90+ ypg once in his career. He's more of a possession guy. But ever since AJ got a decent QB, he's been over 90 ypg every year, save for last year with the recurring injuries and shortened games. People pick on his TDs, but those have also been affected by shorted seasons. From 2007-2010 he's averaged 0.61 TD/gm which is 9.8 TD/16 games.

Not trying to make the thread about AJ, but I think it is worth mentioning since they are WR2 and WR3.

As for the case for guys that could put up 1300/8 (or equivalent) to be had after Fitz, the guys I give the best chance to hit those numbers are Julio Jones (38), Percy Harvin (42), and Miles Austin (45). Steve Smith (43) did it last year on just 129 targets. But they've all got their questions while Fitz is a veritable lock:

Jones - soph slump/health
Harvin - will the rushing attempts be there?
Austin - health/emergence of Bryant
Smith - soph slump for Newton?


Larry Fitzgerald projections

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