Fantasy: Larry Fitzgerald in Line for a Big 2012

| April 30, 2012

Former Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd found himself in a nice new home when the Cardinals drafted him in the first round. However, it’s his new teammate, Larry Fitzgerald (+23.2), that could be the biggest beneficiary of the addition in 2012.

Starting in 2010, when both Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner departed the desert, Fitz has seen his numbers drop. Below are two charts. The “No. 2″ receiver on each chart is  the receiver that took the second most snaps at wide receiver each year. In 2008 and 2009, “No. 2″ is solely Boldin. In 2010, it was Steve Breaston. In 2011, it was Andre Roberts.

2008 and 2009
Snaps Targets Rec. % Catch Routes Yds. TD FP PPS
Fitzgerald 1020 147 97 65.9% 668 1265 13 297 0.29
No. 2 771 120 87 72.5% 524 1034 8 232 0.30

Part of the reason for the large difference in number of snaps between Fitzgerald and his No. 2 is because Boldin was unable to remain healthy for all 16 games. Both Fitzgerald and Bolding had high PPS and both topped 1,000 yards. Boldin’s higher catch percentage is because he was much more of a possession receiver than Fitzgerald in Arizona’s offense. When we look at the production of Fitzgerald and his No. 2 during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, however, there is a drop in several categories.

2010 and 2011
Snaps Targets Rec. % Catch Routes Yds. TD FP PPS
Fitzgerald 999 160 85 53.3% 649 1274 7 254 0.25
No. 2 829 87 49 56.6% 569 652 2 122 0.15

Fitzgerald’s PPS saw a dip, but the No. 2 saw a massive drop in PPS. Fitzgerald’s touchdown production was nearly cut in half even though his yardage remained virtually unchanged. Fitzgerald’s role in Arizona’s offense didn’t change. The only thing keeping him away from reaching his fantasy point totals between 2008 and 2009 was his smaller touchdown totals.

However, the biggest difference when comparing Fitzgerald’s production with Boldin and Warner and without them is the difference in his catch rate. Even though he saw more targets (usually a good thing in fantasy football), he caught less passes. Fitzgerald is not one to drop the ball often – he has finish in the top-six every year since 2008 for fewest percent of balls dropped – so what was the reason for this drastic drop in his catch rate?

One of the biggest reasons is the severe change in quarterback play Fitzgerald has gone through. When studying the accuracy percentage of his quarterbacks between 2008-2011, it’s clear that Fitzgerald benefitted from superb accuracy on Warner’s part.

Arizona’s quarterback accuracy improved greatly between 2010 and 2011, but it is still a far cry from the accuracy provided with Warner. Even though Kolb has been been ridiculed for his performance during his debut year for the Cardinals, his accuracy percentage was actually pretty good. Kolb was 73 percent accurate with his passes before missing the rest of the season. By comparison, Eli Manning had a 72 percent accuracy percentage on his season as a whole. The other Arizona quarterbacks – specifically John Skelton’s 62 percent accuracy rating – combined to bring the team QB accuracy rating down to 67 percent.

There is no guarantee that Kolb will be the Cardinals’ starter in 2012, but if he is (and he remains healthy), Fitzgerald’s fantasy production will benefit. If Arizona’s quarterback(s) can sustain between 71-73 percent accuracy throughout the season, Fitzgerald could catch as many as 10-15 additional passes in 2012 because he will simply see more catchable balls.

Fitzgerald has routinely finished near the top of wide receivers with a drop rate of just 3 percent every year since 2008, making additional catchable balls thrown his way that much more valuable. If Fitzgerald sees 155 targets and his quarterback is 65 percent accurate, there will be about 100 catchable balls thrown Fitzgerald’s way. If Fitzgerald sees 155 targets and his quarterback is 73 percent accurate, he will receive about 113 catchable balls. Remember, the actual number of balls caught will be slightly lower because this example does not account for the defense’s ability to contest a pass.

Another aspect holding Fitzgerald back from the higher fantasy production he achieved in 2008 and 2009 is his lower TD rate. He had a TD rate of 12.5 and 13.4 percent in 2008 and 2009, respectively. His TD rate dropped to 6.6 percent in 2010 before rebounding to 10 percent in 2011. His 2012 TD rate should be around 10 percent again. While not an increase from 2011, Fitzgerald should reach double-digit TDs because of the aforementioned 15 potential additional catches.

As for first-round pick Floyd, Fitzgerald may have found his new wingman. It will take more than one year for Floyd to reach Boldin’s level of production, but if he can be nearly as productive as Boldin was, Fitzgerald owners will profit. As the above charts show, another receiver producing at a high level on his team does not have a negative impact on Fitzgerald’s production. It may mean less targets for Fitzgerald, but in the end it is actually be a benefit because it would force defenses to focus less on Fitzgerald.

Assuming he wins the job and starts opposite Fitzgerald, Floyd will give Arizona their first 100+ target receiver since Boldin. This will take some of the pressure off of Fitzgerald, especially in the red-zone. If Floyd proves to be effective at working underneath, it could open up opportunities for Fitzgerald down the field. Even though he averaged less than 13 yards-per-catch in both 2009 and 2010, Fitzgerald turned it up in 2011 with a very high 17.6 YPC average. This was aided by Fitzgerald’s aDOT of 13.6. If Floyd’s presence gives Fitzgerald more opportunities down the field, Fitz could reach 1,5000 yards for the first time in his career.

Things are lining up for Fitzgerald to be a dominant fantasy wide receiver again in 2012. Improvement at the quarterback position — although still not as good as it was with Warner — and a new No. 2 receiver to share the load could launch Fitz back to the top of his position. His high-end estimates are around 95 catches, 1,500 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Even with smaller estimates, Fitzgerald is poised to be a top-three fantasy receiver in 2012.

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