Last season, Larry Fitzgerald caught 80 balls for 1,411 yards and 8 touchdowns. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were his quarterbacks.

Coming into 2012, Fitz has the same guys throwing him the ball. But with little changing, many are pushing him down their pre-season rankings because “his quarterbacks are bad.”

Am I missing something?

The Quarterback Battle

Well, actually, I am. I’ve been responding to that comment with “He did it last year with the same guys,”, but realistically, both sides of this Fitzgerald dispute are wrong. Larry Fitzgerald can (and did) put up monster numbers with one of those guys. And that guy was John Skelton.

Last season, Fitz conveniently played 8 games with Kolb under center, and 8 games with Skelton at quarterback. His numbers were as follows:

With Kolb at Quarterback:

38 receptions, 658 yards, 2 touchdowns
77.8 fantasy points – 9.7 points per game

With Skelton at Quarterback:

42 receptions, 753 yards, 6 touchdowns
111.3 fantasy points – 13.9 points per game

I understand that the sample size is small, but let’s break this down a bit. With Skelton, Fitzgerald caught just 4 more passes compared to Kolb. But he had nearly 100 more yards and 4 more touchdowns. Why? Well, it has a lot to do with the fact that John Skelton has better arm strength than Kolb, and can get the ball downfield more effectively. For reference, Pro Football Focus broke down Kolb’s effectiveness down the field, and it’s not pretty (his numbers, not the article).

Skelton’s numbers with Fitz weren’t better because of the opponents he faced, either. In 2011, Kolb faced an average pass defense rank of 16.25 (out of all 32 teams). For Skelton, the average pass defense rank was 9.75.

Using 2011 as the measure, the 6’6’’ Skelton clearly is the favorable player to throw footballs to Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s Numbers

Fitzgerald, in 2011, had by far his best average yards per reception compared to any other year. And while many will say that it’s because “the Cardinals were down by a lot and all they did was throw”, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Fitzgerald did have good 4th quarter numbers in 2011, but it’s not as though he was getting them in garbage time. Fitzgerald had good 4th quarter numbers because he’s a gamer. In fact, 68% of his 4th quarter yards came when the game margin between the Cardinals and their opponent ranged from 0-7 points.

And even if we want to say that Fitzgerald is catching passes in garbage time, shouldn’t we still value him the same way we did last year? I mean, after all, the Cardinals surely won’t be that strong of a team again this season.

Aside from 2011, the one thing with Fitzgerald’s numbers that is immensely important is that they’re historically consistent. Fifty percent of his NFL career has resulted in a 1,400-yard season. And he’s had at least 6 touchdowns in all 8 seasons played, with 4 double-digit touchdown seasons.

That’s his floor – 6 touchdowns. You can’t say that about a lot of the wide receivers being drafted around him. Greg Jennings has had just two double-digit touchdown seasons, and two seasons with 4 or less scores. Andre Johnson has never posted more than 9 touchdowns. And Brandon Marshall – well – we all know that his biggest knock is getting into the end zone.

You’re not drafting Fitzgerald for upside. We all know his upside. You’re drafting Larry Fitzgerald because he’s safe. You know what you’re getting from the veteran receiver.

Final Evaluation

Fitzgerald should be the second receiver taken off the board as long as John Skelton is the starter. If Kolb gets the nod, I’d push Fitz down to about 5 or 6. He’s still going to be a talent in 2012.

My issue with drafting Fitzgerald is simple: His ADP is too high. While I think that he should be ranked towards the top pre-draft, I do think that the difference between him and someone like Dez Bryant could end up being minimal. And if we’re correctly using Value Based Drafting, we see why this is the case.

The wide receiver position is deep this year, and because of that, I’m more than likely not going to land Fitzgerald. I’ll let another team get him in the second round, and I’ll land value at wide receiver in the fourth.

All scoring references based on standard fantasy football scoring