Dynasty

An Exhaustive Look at Larry Fitzgerald’s Prospects in 2013


Larry Fitzgerald has an ADP of WR6, according to the compilation of drafts available on Fantasy Pros. That strikes me as borderline insane. He is sandwiched in between Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas, two otherworldly athletic talents with elite quarterbacks throwing them the ball. In the top 20 of wide receiver ADP for 2013 redraft, Fitzgerald has easily the worst quarterbacking situation, unless you believe that Carson Palmer is better than Ryan Tannehill. Either way, I’ll be avoiding Larry Fitzgerald in redraft, and not targeting him, or selling him in dynasty leagues.

In fantasy football, the idea is not to be right 100% of the time, but rather to make a series of bets that improve our odds of winning. We, as fantasy football players, need to make smart investments that are more likely to break our way than not. We all realize that part of our success is a result of luck, but we have to put ourselves in position to get lucky. After finishing as WR42 in 2012, Fitzgerald’s eye-popping 2013 ADP leads me to believe that investing in Fitzgerald is a classic scenario of making an investment that is more likely to fail than to succeed. To reason out exactly why the Fitzgerald bet is a bad one, we need to look at all of the moving parts.

Using the Similarity Score‘s app, we get a peak into what Fitzgerald’s comparables did the season after they were comparable to Fitz.

NAME SEAS AGE WEIGHT GMS TRGS RECS YDS TDS recFPOP YPT
Muhsin Muhammad

2006.00

33

217

16

7.31

3.75

53.94

0.31

-0.01

7.38

Muhsin Muhammad

2003.00

30

217

15

6.67

3.60

55.40

0.20

-0.05

8.31

Michael Westbrook

2002.00

30

220

8

3.25

1.00

11.75

0.25

-0.20

3.62

Sean Dawkins

2001.00

30

215

14

3.50

1.43

16.71

0.00

-0.50

4.78

Jerry Porter

2006.00

28

220

2

2.00

0.50

9.50

0.00

-0.48

4.75

Muhsin Muhammad

2002.00

29

217

14

7.71

4.50

58.79

0.21

-0.11

7.62

Oronde Gadsden

2002.00

31

215

6

4.83

2.67

38.00

0.00

-0.20

7.86

Eric Moulds

2002.00

29

210

16

11.25

6.25

80.75

0.62

-0.04

7.18

Chris Chambers

2007.00

29

210

16

8.06

4.12

60.62

0.25

-0.09

7.52

Chris Chambers

2008.00

30

210

14

4.57

2.36

33.00

0.36

0.13

7.22

Randy Moss

2007.00

30

210

16

9.94

6.12

92.62

1.44

0.63

9.32

Kevin Walter

2008.00

27

218

16

5.94

3.75

56.19

0.50

0.29

9.46

Kevin Walter

2011.00

30

218

15

3.93

2.60

31.60

0.20

0.02

8.03

Ronald Curry

2008.00

29

220

10

4.80

1.90

17.70

0.20

-0.39

3.69

Reche Caldwell

2007.00

28

215

6

3.67

2.50

23.50

0.00

-0.39

6.41

Marty Booker

2004.00

28

212

15

7.00

3.33

42.53

0.07

-0.34

6.08

Muhsin Muhammad

2004.00

31

217

16

10.00

5.81

87.81

1.00

0.39

8.78

Eric Moulds

2006.00

33

210

16

4.88

3.56

34.81

0.06

-0.18

7.14

Anquan Boldin

2011.00

31

220

14

7.57

4.07

63.36

0.21

-0.03

8.37

Arnaz Battle

2008.00

28

217

8

5.25

3.00

39.75

0.00

-0.24

7.57

The first set of numbers that is going to jump off the page is Randy Moss’s record breaking 2007. However, if we use all of these numbers to create an average and then multiply them by 16 to create a full season, all of the comparables create a 908 yard season with 4.7 touchdowns. Over a full season, rounding up the touchdowns, that is 120 standard fantasy points, which would have been WR28 in 2012, one point higher than Golden Tate. Take away Moss’s numbers, and the averages just get scary, falling to 815 yards and 4.44 touchdowns, or roughly equivalent to what WR36, Malcolm Floyd did last year.

While the comp report does a pretty good job of explaining why you would be better off not betting on Fitzgerald, there are more parts at work here. When Fitzgerald last had competent quarterback play, he finished as WR5 in standard scoring. Many believe that the arrival of Carson Palmer is a signal that Fitzgerald is ready to be an elite fantasy receiver again. In Oakland, Palmer had pretty solid fantasy numbers but didn’t create any fantasy stars, outside of Brandon Myers.

To make it fair to Fitzgerald, we’ll take the average of the top wide receiver for each individual game and extrapolate those numbers. This hypothetical Oakland WR1 had 990 yards and 5 touchdowns and 129 standard fantasy points, or WR27 in 2012. Granted, this is an imperfect method, and Fitzgerald is likely more talented than Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Darius Heyward-Bey combined, but it does do the job of giving some evidence of what Carson Palmer can do for his wide receivers at this stage in his career. The picture is still grainy, so we must press on.

One of the largest problems for the Arizona passing game is that they have no pass blocking. Per PFF, Arizona was the absolute worst pass blocking unit in the entire league, by a good margin, finishing 10 points behind the next closet team, the Indianapolis Colts. The Raiders pass blocking unit, while not amazing, had an overall positive rating, including a left tackle, Jason Veldheer, with the 9th highest pass block rating of any tackle on either side. The Cardinal’s will at least have a different offensive line in 2013. Levi Brown, their left tackle, missed all of 2012, but that actually may have been an improvement, as in 2011 he graded out as the 2nd worst tackle in all of football, per PFF. The Cardinal’s drafted Johnathan Cooper in an effort to shore up the interior line, although that won’t matter much with the rest of the line being so terrible. Not one of the starting lineman for the 2013 Arizona Cardinals is a proven plus in the passing game; So part of what caused Fitzgerald’s woes –  awful pass blocking – doesn’t seem to be improved. Elite wide receivers’ fantasy numbers will always struggle if the quarterback is consistently forced to check down to running backs and tight ends and if the offense is dealing with more 3rd and 22’s than first and goals. Since it seems Carson Palmer will be operating under pressure,  what has he been able to do while under duress?

Luckily for Fitzgerald, Palmer was mediocre instead of downright awful. Palmer was able to complete 52.5% of his passes while under pressure, which was almost as good as Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald’s fantasy value, those completions didn’t often go to wide receivers. Of 376 passes completed by Palmer, only 44% were caught by wide receivers. The team leaders in receptions, Brandon Myers and Marcel Reece, had aDOT’s of 7.2 yards and 4.3 yards, respectively. Additionally, 31.5% of Palmer’s pass attempts came in the 4th quarter. This indicates that Palmer’s 61% completion percentage and under duress percentage were inflated by easy to complete throws that didn’t enhance the team’s chance at winning. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, consistently relying on garbage time is as unpredictable as a game script. However, both Palmer and Fitzgerald will be operating in a different offense, underneath offensive guru Bruce Arians.

Many have spoken about Arians’ ability to create favorable fantasy situations for wide receivers. He coached Mike Wallace to WR1 seasons in 2011 and 2010, Santonio Holmes to a WR2 campaign in 2009, and Hines Ward to WR15 in 2008. In fact, Holmes, Ward and Reggie Wayne all finished exactly as WR15 in their campaigns with Arians, which if nothing else, is at least a funny coincidence. To meet even close to return on invest of Fitzgerald’s current price, he would have to have a season similar to Mike Wallace’s top 2 years. However, Wallace and Fitzgerald have very different games and there is reason to believe Fitz might not thrive in the vertical passing offense the same way that Wallace did. Consider that in the season where Fitzgerald finished as the overall top wide receiver, he had an aDOT of exactly 11 yards and when Wallace finished in the top 5, he had an aDOT of 17 yards. In Fitzgerald’s best season of aDOT, 2011, he averaged 13.8 yards a target. Both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes had aDOT’s close to Fitzgerald’s, but neither met the ceiling that is priced into the Fitzgerald’s ADP and dynasty price. Arians may have a dynamic system, but there is no guarantee it is a perfect fit for Fitzgerald’s current skill set.

While I believe Arian’s offense will maintain a baseline of efficacy and improve Fitzgerald’s fantasy standings from a fringe roster spot to a lower tier WR2, the cornerbacks in the NFC West are going to pose a real problem for Fitzgerald. One game against Revis on a schedule is not enough to downgrade a wide receiver, but 6 games versus Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Janoris Jenkins, Bradley Fletcher and Chris Culliver will dampen his value. While it is still likely that Fitzgerald will have several good games, just like he did against Philadelphia, Buffalo and Green Bay in 2012, these matchups limit his value. Sherman allowed only 47.1% passes thrown his way to be completed, Browner 54%, Jenkins 61%, Fletcher 47.1% and Culliver 49.3%. The 49er’s and Seahawks were both in the top 5 of pass defense and the Rams finished 15th. Even if Arians puts Fitzgerald on the move and in the slot, the way that he did Reggie Wayne in 2012, the fantasy ceiling in these match ups are dramatically lowered. Fitzgerald also will face the Buccaneers revamped pass defense with Darrelle Revis as well Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson and the Texans pass rush. Out of 16 possible matchups, 8 immediately grade out as negative for Fitzgerald.

All of these points would be moot if I believed Fitzgerald was the same all pro physical specimen who posted  WR30, WR2, WR24, WR5, WR1, WR5, WR16, and WR5 finishes. However, coming off a WR42 finish, and approaching his age 30 season, I believe that his physical talent has dropped to some degree. Not enough for me to argue that he won’t be worth owning, despite all of my concerns or even for me to declare he is a “sell for whatever you can get” candidate in dynasty leagues. Steve Wryemski of Dynasty League Football has done a study that notes that elite WR’s don’t fall off until their age 32 season, but Fitzgerald’s decline began in his age 28 season. In 2010, his catch percentage fell to 53.6%, dropped ever so slightly to 53.0% in 2012, and finally bottomed out at 48% last year. Much of that can be blamed on quarterback, which is why Carson Palmer bared so much evaluation.

The argument from the Fitzgerald’s supporters is that Palmer is going to provide the quarterbacking necessary to make those targets more valuable by making them more catchable. While I do think that Palmer will be better than the Kolb-Lindley-Skelton horrendous trio, I don’t think he will be so incredible that he will justify Fitzgerald as a top 10 wide receiver. Taking Fitzgerald before players Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Percy Harvin or Torrey Smith seems incredibly counter productive. Many players being selected behind Fitzgerald have similar fantasy floors and much higher upside. With the positional scarcity of the running back position, it makes more sense in terms of redraft to grab two top 20 runners in the first 3 rounds, and then take advantage of the depressed values of players like T.Y Hilton, Josh Gordon and Cecil Shorts. The ceiling of what Fitzgerald can do for your fantasy team at his current ADP is not worth the drastic floor that we have already seen him hit once. With other options, there is just no reason to gamble on a player in such a tenuous situation.

In a best case scenario, Fitzgerald will meet his exact draft day value, but in the most likely scenario, he will will drastically fail to meet what you are forced to pay for him. In dynasty leagues, Fitzgerald is 30 years old on a team with no long term plan at quarterback. If the decline doesn’t come this year, it is coming soon and because Fitzgerald went for the money instead of chasing a championship, his fantasy football value will suffer. He will go through this year with what is left of Palmer and then try and have one more year in his elite frame with whatever rookie ends up on the Cardinal’s roster in 2014. I do not hate Larry Fitzgerald, or fail to recognize that he is all time at the wide receiver; however, his current situation indicates that past accolades are creating an untrue perception of his value for our purposes as fantasy football players.

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By Davis Mattek | @davismattek | Archive

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