Michael Floyd: The Division Belle
Pat Thorman makes a case for Arizona's Michael Floyd as fantasy's number 10 wideout of 2014.
Michael Floyd: The Division Belle
The receivers list has already crystalized into some combination of Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones in tier one. Almost invariably they are followed by the Twin Towers of Trestman, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown are usually the next names, and they stretch the list to nine. After that it’s like herding cats…in the Wild West…on acid.
Sure, there are plenty of attractive options. But for the next 25 or so receivers there is an incredible amount of interchangeability based on a drafter’s particular taste. From second options in high-octane offenses to top dogs in questionable attacks and every Bowe, Larry, and Torrey in between, there is no shortage of pass catchers for whom you can fashion a case as deserving of the 10th WR spot. This is the case for the rugged NFC West’s new top wideout, Michael Floyd.
Learning To Fly
The former 13th overall pick enters his third year poised to build off of a solid 2013 that saw him finish as fantasy’s 23rd-highest scoring wideout (27th in PPR). It is not a stretch to look at that as something of a floor. He missed all but 12 snaps (6 pass routes) when he exited a Week 10 game due to a shoulder injury that nagged him for the rest of the season. He was also held back by deficiencies in the Cardinals’ offense, many of which have been mitigated and will be addressed in a minute.
Using the inspired RotoViz Similarity Score App we can get a loose projection of Floyd’s point-per-game range of outcomes based on a list of 20 comparable receivers.
|Michael Floyd||Standard||Half PPR||PPR|
The Low projection, which would have made him the 48th ranked receiver in 2013, is pretty pessimistic. Short of an injury—or five—to key members of Arizona’s offense or to Floyd himself (an inherent caveat with any player), it’s hard to see that scenario playing out. When he saw at least 50 percent of snaps as a rookie in 2012, Floyd averaged 6.4 fantasy points per game with a clown car of quarterbacks shot-putting the ball at him. It’s safe to disregard the apocalyptic projection.
Floyd’s Median points per game forecast would have placed him as the 18th highest scoring wideout last season, five spots ahead of where he did finish. That’s more like it. His High projection works out to 166.4 standard points and an impressive 13th place finish in terms of 2013 receiver scoring. Incidentally, the 13th-highest scoring fantasy wideout from Week 11 until the end of the 2013 season was none other than…Michael Floyd.
Week 11 came just after Floyd suffered the shoulder injury and two weeks before he initially hurt his ankle, an ailment he would aggravate the following week. He was obviously gimpy during a two-catch, 26-yard Week 14 game, and was still dealing with a sore ankle the following week when he caught two balls for 33 yards. He was targeted just nine times combined in those two games. Removing those contests, as well as his shoulder injury-shortened Week 10 game, he averaged 7.3 targets per game.
Floyd averaged 1.25 fantasy points per target (FP/T) in 2013, which was better than his more acclaimed teammate Larry Fitzgerald (1.21), and a number of pass catchers that are currently being drafted ahead of him – Pierre Garcon (0.95), Victor Cruz (1.04), Michael Crabtree (1.15), and Antonio Brown (1.21) chief among them.
Even counting the two injury-affected games, Floyd posted an incredible 1.51 FP/T mark over his final seven games. Not only did that eclipse Cordarrelle Patterson’s 1.45 figure (which was aided considerably by 33.8 points on handoffs), but it was better than Green’s (1.22), Marshall’s (1.28), Bryant’s (1.29), Jeffery’s (1.38), and even Megatron’s (1.49).
Floyd earned PFF’s 19th highest grade for his work in the passing game (+10.5), again edging out Fitzgerald (+9.0; 24th). He tied Jeffery for the 10th highest yards per reception average (16.0) among wideouts who saw at least half of their team’s snaps. Floyd tied Megatron for the seventh highest percentage of targets coming on deep balls (20+ yards), and he hauled in all nine that were deemed catchable by PFF.
In fact, just 70 of his 107 total targets were catchable. He snagged 65 of those for a solid catch rate of 7.14, which is more impressive when his average depth of target (aDOT) of 15.2 is factored in. It was the eighth-deepest, and only two receivers with higher aDOTs had lower drop rates (Jacoby Jones and Kenny Stills).
The most surprising thing about Floyd’s 2013 season is he only scored five touchdowns. At 6-foot-2 and 220-pounds, he has the requisite size to be a strong red zone producer.
Arizona threw 72 red zone passes in 2013, which was the 17th most, and converted 20.8 percent of those into touchdowns (16th-highest). The good news for 2014 is they passed while inside the 20-yard line 56.7 percent of the time, which was the 13th highest rate.
When Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians was coordinating the Colts offense in 2012, he was pass-heavy in the red zone as well (54.4%). That was a departure from his time in Pittsburgh, when he called run more often than not in those situations. With the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, who Arians coached as a Steeler and who handled 29 of Arizona’s 55 red zone carries last year, we may even see a higher percentage of passes from in close. Andre Ellington is not a prototypical goal line back, and neither Stepfan Taylor nor Jonathan Dwyer inspires Tommy Vardell flashbacks.
No matter which way Arians leans as far as play calling, Floyd will undoubtedly be more efficient with his looks. Out of Floyd’s 14 red zone targets, he caught only six and scored just twice. For a receiver with his frame, it’s not hard to foresee that 14.3 percent scoring figure creeping up into the twenties, at least. He averaged 9.3 touchdowns per season at Notre Dame, including 11.7 during his last three years when his scoring rate annually eclipsed the 30-percent threshold.
Us and Them
No discussion of a fantasy player who roams the NFL West is complete without mentioning their minefield of a division. Games against the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks took a toll on Floyd’s production, although not as much as one would guess. He scored 7.53 points per division game and 8.89 in his other 10 contests. That would have been the difference between ending 2013 as the 19th best fantasy wideout and the 29th. Considering he finished 23rd, it wasn’t too much of a drag on his production.
The Cardinals offense is now better-equipped to handle those ferocious division foes, as well as the rest of their 2014 opponents (the NFC East, AFC West, Lions, and Falcons). That revolves around what was the league’s most pathetic blocking in 2013. Arizona graded as the seventh worst run blocking (-64.1) and worst pass blocking (-70.3) team.
Carson Palmer had the quickest Time To Pressure in the league, both when he was in the shotgun (2:16), and under center (2:30). He was under a rush on over 40 percent of his dropbacks, which was the league’s sixth-highest rate. He led the league in pressures that arrived in 2.0 seconds or less.
Palmer’s biggest failing, and a huge drag on Arizona’s offense, were his 22 interceptions. He ranked second worst in the NFL in that category, but his 15 interceptions while under pressure led the league, by five. Few quarterbacks are more ill-suited to handle jailbreak pass rushes than the statuesque Palmer. He’s not the passer he once was, but if he is given half a chance he can clearly be well above average.
The reason Palmer and the Cardinals are more prepared to run the gauntlet of NFC West defenses is their offensive line has received a major facelift, at least on the left side. Here is the Cardinals line from last year, with PFF pass and run blocking grades, followed by their NFL positional rank. Bradley Sowell’s and Levi Brown’s tour-de-farce performances at left tackle are combined into one cringe-worthy mark.
|ARZ O-Line||LT Sowell/Brown||LG Cooledge||C Sendlein||RG Fanaika||RT Winston|
|Pass/Run Block||-35.4 / -13.4||+0.8 / -5.7||-4.7 / +3.5||-14.8 / -17.7||-7.8 / -8.4|
|NFL Rank||77th / 70th||32nd / 53rd||28th / 12th||74th / 77th||66th / 62nd|
The good news is that the only holdover for 2014 projects to be Lyle Sendlein, who actually graded as PFF’s 18th overall center. He has been an adequate performer in the past, and in Arizona that qualifies you as a standout. Jared Veldheer was imported from Oakland, where he finished 2012 as the overall 12th best tackle (+17.8 pass block; 9th), which was his most recent fully-healthy season. Former first round pick (7th overall) Jonathan Cooper, who redshirted his rookie year due to injury, will solidify left guard.
Raw second-year guard Earl Watford should be ready to push Paul Fanaika to the bench (he’s not hard to push). Bobby Massie finally gets his shot to prove worthy of PFF’s love and grab the right tackle job. Arizona also snagged one of, if not the best blocking tight end in the draft. Troy Niklas, once he acclimates to the NFL, can provide extra blocking support on the edges while still forcing defenses to account for him as a receiver.
No matter how they all perform, it’s hard to imagine Palmer’s working conditions as anything but vastly improved. We know what he can do when not under duress, even if we haven’t seen very much of it recently.
The Great Gig in the Sky
With more time to get deeper into their routes, the Cardinals receivers will benefit and Arians will be more in his offensive element. Since 2007, there was only one season in which he coached a passer who finished outside of the top 10 in deep ball percentage, or threw 20-plus yards downfield on less than 10 percent of his dropbacks. Then 2013 happened and Palmer had a 12.9 deep ball percentage while essentially operating under constant duress.
We should see more of Arians’ creativity now that his offense has a sturdier base from which to work. Not only has he skewed pass-heavier in the red zone of late, as we addressed earlier, he has generally thrown more often. The Cardinals passed 59.3 percent of the time in 2013, and it was the second highest rate of Arians’ professional coaching career. It was surpassed only by the 60.3 percent passing mark he established the prior season with the Colts. You might say that since he got out of Pittsburgh, where they passed just 45.7 percent of the time during his tenure, he’s been letting his freak flag fly.
To see how that will affect Floyd we need to examine how Arians is impacting Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ nominal number one wideout. As Arians did with the Colts’ Reggie Wayne in 2012, he is putting Fitzgerald in the slot exponentially more often than in the past. Wayne’s slot percentage increased from 12.6 in 2011, to 61.2 when Arians arrived in Indy. His slot targets shot up from 16 to 90. Last year, Fitzgerald saw his slot percentage rise from the 18.8 he established in 2012 to 48.2, and his slot targets jumped from 25 to 47. Arians puts his “number ones” in the slot more often than not.
We can expect Fitzgerald’s slot percentage to rise again, as Arizona’s other main slot weapon, Andre Roberts, departed for Washington. Ted Ginn and rookie John Brown have been brought in, and both are burners who will see plenty of time on the outside as Fitzgerald eats up more slot snaps. Most of Roberts’ 2013 slot targets (31) will go to Fitzgerald, but the rest of his target total of 73 probably won’t transfer pass-for-pass to the Ginn/Brown combo. Floyd, who spent just 22.3 percent of the time in the slot last year, will drink some of the runoff. Arians essentially does not use a fourth receiver.*
Add it all up and Floyd should have enough going for him to make up the roughly 50 fantasy points that separated him from the 10th WR slot in 2013. If he maintains the 1.51 fantasy point per target average that he posted during the final seven games, he would need about 17 more targets than the 107 he received last season.
Adding those targets is probably more likely than Floyd maintaining a 1.51 FP/T pace for a full season, despite the fact that he established that average with only three touchdowns. In 2009, Arians coached a Pittsburgh team that directed 138 targets at their WR2, and when he was with the Colts their number two wideout saw 124 targets.*
As previously mentioned, once we get past the receivers ranked in the single digits there is little consensus, and reasonable cases can be made for a gaggle of pass catchers. But just so nobody thinks numbers are being thrown against The Wall to see what sticks, the projection below reflects the following assumptions:
Floyd will see a rise in targets per game (6.7 to 7.8) due to increases in overall throwing volume, his share of the passing game, and his 2013 per game average when not affected by injury (7.3). This is the riskiest assumption.
Floyd’s catch rate will tick up slightly (60.7% to 64.0%) based on improved quarterback play (catchable passes) and his previously established pass catching prowess (strong drop rate).
Floyd’s yards per reception will grow (16.0 to 16.9) due to a rising aDOT (14.4 first nine 2013 games vs. 16.1 in last seven) being enhanced by stronger line play.
Floyd’s touchdowns get a relatively conservative bump (5 to 8) considering his scoring profile. His 14 red zone targets will rise, as will his efficiency on those looks. Fitzgerald will likely still outpace him in scoring opportunities but the gap will be smaller than 10 targets.
Have a Cigar
Michael Floyd 2014 projection: 125 targets, 80 catches, 1350 yards, 8 TD
* Big hat tip to the encyclopedic Rich Hribar for Bruce Arians’ 10-year career coaching splits data.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman