In 156 career games, the eight-time Pro Bowler has amassed 846 receptions, 11,367 yards receiving and 87 receiving touchdowns. Fitzgerald is the franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns and 100-yard receiving games, among other achievements.
Yet Fitzgerald's reign as top dog in Arizona's offense came to end in 2013 when second-year wide receiver Michael Floyd tallied team highs in receiving yards, receptions of 20 yards or more and average yards per reception.
In addition to dethroning Fitzgerald as the Cardinals' No. 1 offensive threat, quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receivers coach Darryl Drake have lauded Floyd's development during spring workouts.
Palmer told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com that Floyd's play "just jumped out" at him. And Drake said, "The only person that can keep him from being good is him."
Drake's right: The 24-year-old out of Notre Dame has all of the physical tools and is a quick learner who wants to be the best. With that said, let's take a look at how Floyd can emerge as a top wide receiver in 2014.
Playing wideout in the NFL is a daunting task as a youngster, but that doesn't mean finding success is impossible. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Floyd finished the 2013 season with a plus-12.1 grade overall and was the 20th-best receiver in the league.
That's impressive considering he was the 87th-best wideout in 2012 with a minus-3.8 grade overall.
So what changed in a year's time? Aside from the fact that Arizona's coaching staff was more competent from a schematic standpoint and Palmer is head and shoulders above John Skelton, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Lindley, Floyd became a student of the game.
He put in the necessary work in the film room and weight room, and he honed his craft by becoming a better route-runner and blocker.
Floyd recorded nine positively graded games from the folks at PFF and even rattled off an impressive stretch where he turned in seven positively graded games in a row.
Moreover, he showed good speed at all levels of the field and was sure-handed with the football (zero fumbles). Nevertheless, Year 3 will be a crucial season for Floyd in terms of development and realizing his potential.
If he wants to take that next step and become one of the five best players at his position, he will have to put in the necessary work. Floyd has to minimize his drops, become a threat deep downfield and increase his yards per route run.
Of the three challenges mentioned above, the toughest to overcome will be Floyd’s case of the dropsies. I say this because his lack of concentration is a reoccurring issue that has plagued him since his days at Notre Dame.
Here’s what Matt Miller of Bleacher Report had to say about Floyd’s hands at the end of the 2013 season:
Floyd's 65 catches showed he is ready to be a threat, but his five drops in 2013 were a concern. Floyd had similar issues at Notre Dame, and while correctable, this seems to be an issue that’s following him throughout his development.
No, five drops over the course of 16 regular-season games isn't outrageous, yet it's alarming since Palmer only threw Floyd 70 catchable passes last year.
Per PFF, Floyd had a drop rate of 7.14, which means 18 other receivers who played at least 25 percent of their respective team’s snaps had a lower drop rate than he did.
In order to climb the ladder and register a more acceptable rate in 2014, Floyd has to eliminate poor stretches of play. For a case in point, take a look at Weeks 13-17.
During that five-game stretch last season, Floyd had 80 percent of his drops. It's evident he fell into some bad habits.
To show improvement in 2014, all Floyd has to do is bring his drop number down from five to three. Under the assumption that he is thrown 70 catchable balls again, three drops on 70 opportunities means his catch rate would be 4.28.
A 4.28 drop rate would have been the fourth best in the league in 2013. It's amazing what two fewer drops can do for the perception of a particular player's season.
As far as Floyd's deep-receiving ability goes, he was the 14th-most productive pass-catcher on targets of 20 yards or more downfield. Per PFF, 24.3 percent of his targets came on throws of 20 yards or more, while 40 percent of his touchdowns and 13.8 of receptions came on throws of 20 yards or more.
Obviously, a lot of Floyd’s damage downfield is predicated on the success of Palmer's throws. Yet when you turn on the tape, it's clear Floyd has to do a better job of separating from defensive backs when going deep.
There were a number of times where Floyd didn't properly use his size and physical attributes to box defenders out. B/R's Miller alluded to this in his scouting report:
With his size and speed, Floyd can be a threat at any level on the field. What we’d like to see better is his ability to box out defenders and keep them from making a play on the ball. Too often he allowed the opposition to pick off passes thrown his way.
If Floyd would have boxed more defenders out, his catch rate on deep throws would have been higher. In fact, one could assume that his catch rate in 2013 (34.6) could have easily been six to eight points higher.
A catch rate in the 40s would have meant he would have been one of the eight best players at his position for this statistical category. Much like Floyd's drop rate, one or two more receptions on targets of 20 yards or more downfield would have made a huge difference.
Lastly, Floyd's efficiency on a per-route basis has room to improve. According to PFF, his yards per route run was 1.35 in 2012 and 1.83 in 2013.
For a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, those numbers are simply not good enough. Top-notch players like A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson average 2.28 and 2.72 yards per route run, respectively.
For those of you who aren't familiar with yards per route run, here's how the advanced statistic is described on PFF's website:
The Pro Football Focus "Yards per Route Run" figure takes into account the number of snaps a player went into a pattern, providing a better indicator of production than Yards per Reception or even Yards per Target.
Based on that descriptor, it's apparent that PFF is onto something with this statistic. Figuring out how many yards a player gained on a per-route basis tells you how valuable he was on a per-snap basis as well.
To get this number to go up in 2014, Floyd will have to get open more consistently, drop fewer passes and pick up more yards after the catch. Those three things will substantially enhance his yards per route run.
We can all agree Floyd had a breakout season in 2013. He made strides in the playbook and took a giant leap forward in regard to production on the field.
However, if Floyd wants to take that next step and be viewed as an "elite receiver," his game has to expand. He has to say goodbye to the drops. He has to box defenders out and do damage deep down the field. And he has to show progress on a per-route basis.
Making advances in those three areas won't be easy, but nothing in the NFL is. Accomplishments are attained through hard work and dedication.
Thanks to his mentor, Fitzgerald, Floyd is not scared of hard work or dedication.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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