Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top receivers in the league. There is no question about that. He can make plays not many receivers can, and it is a delight to watch him play. Personally, he's my favorite receiver to watch, and last season he broke his career high in touchdown catches with 13.
Having said that, he will likely fail to break 1,000 yards this season, and, not necessarily through any fault of his own, will not have a season comparable to ones he has had in the past. That is not to say he will have a bad season, but it will fail to met expectations.
How could I possibly say this? My reasoning is threefold. First off, the change in quarterbacks from Kurt Warner to Matt Leinart is going to take some getting used to, and as such, the chemistry will be a little slow to start. Leinart has to know where Fitzgerald likes the ball thrown and make sure that he can reasonably catch it, which is not too hard to do for him.
Second, the Cardinals seem to be moving, at least for now, towards a more run-oriented approach. With the uncertainty at quarterback for both Leinart and Derek Anderson, Chris Wells and Tim Hightower will bring some much needed stability, as there is no doubt in my mind that both will have very solid seasons.
Third and most importantly, the loss of Anquan Boldin is going to make it far harder for him to get open. The Cardinals currently do not have a strong number two receiver. Steve Breaston is good, but it is unclear if he can manage being that everyday number two guy, and it's too early yet to make a judgment on Early Doucet. Maybe tight end Ben Patrick can take a bit of pressure off, but that is unlikely as well.
You may be thinking that without Boldin in there, Fitzgerald will have more balls thrown his way and will actually have a breakout season as the obvious star on the team. That sounds good, but he's going to be double-teamed again and again this season, which is especially dangerous because of how he plays.
Unlike others, Fitzgerald is a wide receiver that likes to get in front of the ball, rather than try and reach over and get it. From there he can make his move. If he's double-teamed, then the defense can put a man in front of him to work with the other defender that would be alongside him.
Fitzgerald's method of catching the ball in front limits his yards after catch. Last season, he averaged 3.0 yards after catch. By comparison, Andre Johnson had 5.3, Reggie Wayne had 4.3, and Greg Jennings had 7.0. In other words, a double-team on Fitzgerald would hurt him a lot more than it would hurt these other players.
Looking at how thin the Cardinals' wide receiver corps is this year, and looking at their fondness for throwing the ball to many targets in a game, that's going to be a problem for Fitzgerald this season, as those less effective players will suddenly be more open as teams concentrate on Fitzgerald.
When you combine the new quarterback, the lack of Boldin, and his method of catching passes, it's going to be a rough year in Arizona. There is no doubt that Fitzgerald could still hit 800 yards and get multiple touchdowns, but I don't see a career year happening.
I could be dead wrong and he could get 1,500 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. For that to happen though, Leinart and Fitzgerald would have to click early and often (and Leinart would have to be very good), the running game would have to struggle, and the defensive coordinators of the league would have to forget how one defends Fitzgerald.
Again, Larry Fitzgerald is a great talent, and I hope that he proves me wrong this season. I do not see that happening, though. There is too much going on down in Arizona to make me comfortable, whether or not he thinks that this is a very talented team this year.
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