Larry Fitzgerald remains somehow an underrated fantasy all-timer
(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)
It’s hard to get sports fans to agree on much, but “Larry Fitzgerald is a Hall of Famer” would probably cross the universal-consensus threshold. And yet there’s an argument to be made that we have underrated the Cardinals wide receiver even at that agreed-upon point.
One of my favorite pastimes as it relates to fantasy football is just pick a stat, somewhat at random, put 5–10 years of data on that stat into a spreadsheet, and start filtering the numbers until I find something interesting. This time around, I looked at the percentage of targets wide receiver dropped over the last 10 years. I imagined I’d write something similar to my March 21 piece, in which I railed against the crazy-high fumble rate Chris Ivory exhibited in 2016.
Alas, there were no such obvious examples that way (the highest percentage in 2016 among players with 75-plus targets was Quincy Enunwa, at 12.1 percent, and that just isn’t interesting enough).
So, flip to the other side. There was one interesting, crazy-low rate from 2016: Randall Cobb had no drops on 80 targets, the first player with no drops on at least 75 targets since 2008. But the more interesting discovery was that Fitzgerald’s name was there. Over and over and over.
Check it out. The graph below shows every receiver season in the last 10 years with at least 75 targets. The red dots are Fitzgerald’s percentage of drops per target each season:
In the last 10 years, Fitzgerald has:
- Two of the 10 best seasons by individual players by this measure;
- Eight of the top 50;
- Nine of the top 100
Fitzgerald’s worst drop rate (3.38 percent, in 2012) still ranks 107th out of 552 player-seasons in single-season drop rate in the last decade. You saw that he had nine of the top 100? Only three other players (DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown, Anquan Boldin) have even three such seasons, and only 18 other players total even have two.
There is one easy criticism here: for years, Fitzgerald had awful quarterbacks throwing him the ball. So he might not have dropped a ball, but he might not have actually had the chance to catch it, either, and that artificially makes his drop rate lower. Luckily, Pro Football Focus has an advanced stat for that; PFF tracks “catchable targets,” which is just receptions plus drops, and we have that drop rate as well. Below is that chart again, this time with drop rates on only catchable targets, again with Fitzgerald’s rates in red:
(Those two dots way above everyone else? 2008 Braylon Edwards — 19 drops on 74 catchable targets — and 2013 Davone Bess — 14 on 56. Both were with the Browns, which is a fun little coincidence.)
By the “catchable” standard, in the last decade, Fitzgerald has:
- Two of the 11 best player-seasons;
- Seven of the top 50;
- Nine of the top 65
His 2012 season stands out here (five drops on 148 targets, but 76 catchable targets), but even that one was fifth-best in the given year, and he did that with John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer as his quarterbacks (a combined 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions on 608 passing attempts).
Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his run in the NFL. There were rumors he might retire after the 2016 season, and even more that he will hang up the cleats after this coming season. His last two years have been similar, with hot starts followed by more struggles late. But even with his career apparently winding down, Fitzgerald has been a top-17 or better fantasy receiver eight of the last 10 years, with the only exceptions being that aforementioned 2012 season and 2014, when he missed two games.
Draft Larry Fitzgerald in 2017. Don’t draft him as a WR1, but as a mid-tier WR2? Sure, he’s probably that. Even if he isn’t quite that anymore (and he really might be), if nothing else, Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald has earned someone overrating him for once.