The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Matt Waldman
The No.7 PPR fantasy receiver in 2015, the collective conscious of fantasy football has sounded the alarm about his age. Despite earning 109 receptions, 1215 yards, and 9 touchdowns behind an improved offensive line and a good running game, Fitzgerald's fantasy price hovers around the sixth round. Excluding quarterbacks, Fitzgerald was the No.8 fantasy player last year.
There is no logical reason for him to fall 50 spots. John Brown and Michael Floyd gave the Cardinals the No.25 and No.38 fantasy receivers last year and they each played 15 games. The Cardinals don't have a tight end capable of captivating Carson Palmer's attention at the expense of its three wide receivers. Still, fantasy owners regard Fitzgerald's production as a fluke rather than the product of an exceptional player.
They will misapply ideas of regression to the mean and historical stats that suggest Fitzgerald's production will diminish because he reached a specific age milestone. They will consider the production of all slot receivers in the NFL and conclude Fitzgerald's move to the slot is a higher risk for fantasy production compared to perimeter options. The slot is a great fit for players that can use their size, knowledge of coverage, and precision with route running. Fitzgerald possesses all three and he's still quicker, faster, and healthier than Marques Colston and Anquan Boldin when they had top-15 fantasy production at the position in 2012 and 2013 respectively. We know Fitzgerald never won on speed, but what you may not realize is how many of his younger and more athletic contemporaries have trained with him year after year and could not keep up.
I understand if the hive mind of fantasy football envisions better from Floyd and Brown and it costs Fitzgerald 25-30 catches and 300 yards of receiving production. That would put him in the range of Jordan Matthews' big slot figures of 85-997-8 last year. But the Matthews also lacked two things that Fitzgerald has: Surrounding talent that creates as many easy opportunities as Fitzgerald earns and the caliber of quarterback to distribute the ball as efficiently and productively.
Easy plays often come in the form of short passes into wide-open lanes for substantial yards after the catch and vertical plays. Of plays each earned over 20 yards in length last year, Matthews had 12 and Fitzgerald had 20. Fitzgerald should continue earning more of these easy plays this year and I still think it will be the difference between Matthews as the No.16 fantasy WR last year and Fitzgerald repeating as a top-10 option.
Low Side by Will Grant
If you drafted Larry Fitzgerald last season, you were pleasantly surprised. Especially in the early part of the season. In the first four games of the season, Fitz had 37 receptions for 432 yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. He cooled off a bit after that, but still had plenty of solid games, including six more games with eight or more receptions, finishing the season with 1200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. It was a great rebound after three consecutive seasons with less than 1000 yards, and a career low 784 yards and just two touchdowns in 2014. But as much as it pains me to say it, Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his career and will struggle repeat his 2015 performance this year.
The truth is, as great as his start to the season was, Fitzgerald faded down the stretch, especially during the fantasy playoffs when people needed him most. In his last four games, Fitz had just 18 receptions for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. In Week 14 and 15, Fitz didn't reach the end zone at all, meaning if you had him on your roster, you either started him and were disappointed or benched him. In the playoff loss to the Panthers, Fitzgerald had just four receptions for 30 yards. Blame it on Carson Palmer's dislocated finger, the emergence of John Brown and Michael Floyd or the running game of powered by David Johnson, but you have to look at Fitzgerald's numbers at the end of last season with serious concern.
This year, Fitzgerald probably retains the No. 1 receiver role in name only. The Cardinals have two young guns in Floyd and Brown that any team in the league would be happy to have in their starting lineup. Floyd started slow because of a training camp injury, but finished strong with 100 or more yards in five of his last eight games. Brown is entering his third season with the speed and quickness to make him a threat every time he touches the ball. He recently suffered a concussion in training camp, but should be fully recovered by the time the season starts. With Brown and Floyd pushing hard for increased playing time, you can expect Fitzgerald's numbers to slide backwards this season.
Fitzgerald definitely has value for your fantasy team, and will probably be in your starting lineup every week. He's a borderline WR2-WR3 in most PPR leagues, and he still has some gas in the tank. However, be very careful with what you expect from him on your team this season, especially down the stretch. If he fades in Week 13-17 like he did last season, it could cost you serious fantasy points when you need them the most.