I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I know what it’s like to get excited about something simply because I want it to happen.
I’m also a University of Pittsburgh graduate. Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver to play for my alma mater, and he’s one of my personal favorite players in the NFL. I’m happy that he’s happy about Carson Palmer moving to Arizona. I want them to be successful.
But I’m not getting that excited.
There’s no doubt that Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top receivers in the game. His four 1,400-plus yard seasons and 77 career touchdowns show you that. Talent, however, doesn’t always translate to fantasy success. And fantasy success, conversely, doesn’t always mean a player is talented.
Larry Fitzgerald was a bad fantasy (key word here is “fantasy”) player last season. He finished worse than the 40th receiver in most league formats, had fewer than 800 yards receiving and scored just four times. A consensus second round draft choice, Fitz was clearly a bust.
It was a sad thing to see after he had performed at such a high level throughout his career. Prior to 2012, he had been a top-5 receiver in four of his five previous seasons, and was performing at an incredibly high level with a miserable quarterback carousel throwing him the ball in 2011. This past season just didn’t go well.
Many thought – even prior to Carson Palmer signing with Arizona – that Fitzgerald was due for a bounce back year under the new Bruce Arians coaching staff. Arians has run a vertical offense in the past, and receivers like TY Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace have had a lot of success in it; both from a fantasy and “real” football standpoint. The addition of Rashard Mendenhall didn’t hurt Fitzgerald’s cause either, as another weapon would keep defenses at least a bit honest. Mendenhall’s a versatile back that has an opportunity to start over the always-injured Ryan Williams, and has experience in Arians’ offense.
Fitzgerald’s stock was pointing upward before the transaction, and with the Carson Palmer trade, Fitz’s stock looks even higher. It’s just not as high as some fantasy footballers think, who have mentioned Fitzgerald as a new top-5 receiver.
Carson Palmer moving to Arizona is about as exhilarating as a box of teabags. It’s not like it’s a bad thing (OK, maybe it’s a bad thing); Carson Palmer just isn’t thrilling. He’s always had a plain vanilla personality, and his lack of recent NFL success has placed himself among the ranks of some of the more mediocre signal callers in the league. He’s not a great quarterback. He’s rarely been a great quarterback. And he’s not going to, all of a sudden, make his top receiver one of the most fantasy worthy ones in football.
Palmer should make Fitzgerald a better fantasy option, don’t get me wrong. Though the eye test says otherwise, Palmer’s numbers in Oakland could’ve been worse. And if the Cardinals enter “garbage time” the same number of times Oakland did last season, Palmer should be able to throw the ball up to Fitz plenty of times in 2013.
But will Carson even have enough time in the pocket to get the ball down field? Arizona’s offensive line was putrid last season. In fact, it ranked dead last in both rush and pass blocking categories according to Pro Football Focus, resulting in the worst overall offensive line in the league. Oakland, though not much better, ranked 24th overall and had the 19th best pass blocking in the NFL. Considering the statue-like pocket presence Palmer brings, he may end up in the hospital before he even gets a chance to play with his new toy at receiver.
Oh, and Palmer gets to face new division rivals San Francisco and Seattle twice next year.
Arians has been fortunate to have coached both Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Neither of them needed stellar offensive lines to do what his offense dictated. Roethlisberger is known for his escapability, and Luck has incredibly underrated athleticism. Carson Palmer is anything but athletic. Last season, Carson ranked in the bottom fifth of the league in terms of “average time to sack”. The statistic shows, in seconds, how long it takes a quarterback to be sacked after the snap of the ball. Clearly, more mobile quarterbacks top the list, as they can scramble around before being tackled to the ground behind the line of scrimmage. The only starting quarterbacks who ranked worse than Palmer under this statistic last year were Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Tom Brady and Brandon Weeden. Each of those guys could lose in a foot race to you and me.
And remember, Arizona’s offensive line is awful.
There’s no doubt that Palmer will throw a high number of times next season and will lead the Cardinals to a better offensive rank than they had in 2012. After all, over his final three seasons under Arians, Ben Roethlisberger averaged over 33.5 pass attempts per game. Andrew Luck, Arians’ quarterback last season, averaged over 39. You have to think Palmer will toss the pigskin 500 to 550 times in 2013. That’s positive news for Fitz hopefules, as he should see a high number of targets.
But top-5 wide receiver production?
We have to be cognizant to what’s going on in the rest of the NFL before we jump to this sort of conclusion. I’m admitting Fitzgerald will see an increase in production (even though Palmer may not make it to Week 3), but who’s being pushed out in order to give Fitzgerald a top-5 nod? Dez Bryant? Brandon Marshall? Demaryius Thomas? Percy Harvin? Julio Jones? AJ Green?
You have to balance the potential risk and reward for every player as you draft them. Obviously, the more that reward outweighs risk, the better fantasy option you have. Just take a look at the guys above. Tell me – explain to me – how their risk to reward ratio is larger than Larry Fitzgerald’s when he’s in a new offense with a new quarterback after finishing as the 43rd best receiver just a season ago. Tell me.
The receiver position is way too deep to care about any potential risk early in your draft at wideout. Before we get overly excited about Larry Fitzgerald because Carson Palmer is in Arizona, remember just how deep the receiver position is. Not only would you be spending a potential third round draft choice on Fitz if you value him as a top-5 to -10 wideout, but you’d be foregoing a top running back option – a position limited in supply – for a receiver with plenty of question marks.
We want Larry Fitzgerald to be a top fantasy option. He’s a good guy. He’s a phenomenal football player. But before we get too excited, we have to be realistic. He’s still just a high-end WR2 with potential to do big things, and his probable ADP won’t make him a worthwhile draft choice.