After posting my initial wide receiver rankings for the 2010 fantasy football season, there was a lot of feedback from fellow owners in my fantasy leagues that Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was ranked far too low at 11th.
Subsequently, my one-man mock draft came out and it had Fitzgerald being selected with the 12th pick in the third round. Since it was only a three round mock, he was the last player chosen.
More negative feedback followed although some of it did admit that at least my reasoning made a little sense, a backhanded compliment to be sure.
Let’s examine the case that was made for moving Fitzgerald down the wide receiver rankings.
The wide receiver ranking article commented that:
The mock draft article commented that:
He’s a bargain at this spot but hard to move up given the doubts about Matt Leinart’s ability to produce at quarterback. [Fitz] had the 15th most receiving yards in the league in 2009 but was the fourth ranked fantasy wide receiver courtesy of his 13 touchdowns.
Here are Fitzgerald’s statistics over the last three years with Warner largely at the helm of a potent Cardinals offense:
In examining Fitzgerald’s performance in 2009, it’s clear that his fantasy production was largely based on the number of touchdowns he scored. His average yards per reception suffered because defenses played a lot of cover two against the Cardinals. Opponents feared the team’s passing attack, not its ability to run the ball.
Looking forward to 2010, with Boldin now in Baltimore, defenses will likely commit more to stopping the running back tandem of the emerging Chris Wells and Tim Hightower. However, with Steve Breaston not worthy of as much attention as Boldin, Fitzgerald will likely be double covered on almost every play.
Talented wide receivers are able to beat coverage but it is more difficult for them to get open and they need an accurate passer to get them the ball. With Warner at the controls, Fitzgerald had an accurate passer, but Leinart has not yet proven able to match Warner’s accuracy and is unlikely to develop to that level in 2010.
In his four years in the league, Leinart compiled a completion rate of 57.1%. Last year, in 77 attempts, he completed 66.2% of his passes but his yards per attempt was a lowly 5.6, indicating that he was throwing a high number of short and intermediate passes.
Warner’s career completion percentage was 65.7% and his yards per attempt was 7.8.
Although some fantasy enthusiasts may have taken solace in Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt recently proclaiming that Leinart was the team’s starting quarterback, it’s worth noting that a week prior to this proclamation he had remarked that Leinart would be anointed the starter once he goes to three Pro Bowls and wins the Super Bowl.
More likely than not, Whisenhunt was sending a statement to Leinart, the recently signed Derek Anderson and the team about the anticipated depth chart. Still, the earlier comment by the head coach does give us a lot of confidence in Leinart as the projected starter.
Over the last three years, the Cardinals offense scored 41, 45 and 43 touchdowns. With Leinart at the controls, it’s easy to predict that the Cardinals will score less. With the team now likely to shift to more of a ground based attack, it’s also easy to predict that a higher percentage of their offensive touchdowns will come on the ground.
Fantasy football success is based on drafting for value and the value equation includes a risk component. With Warner at the controls leading a passing based attack, Fitzgerald was a high reward, low risk option.
With Leinart at the controls of a more ground based attack, Fitzgerald will still produce but his upside is less and he is a far riskier option in 2010. For that reason, he’s currently my 11th ranked wide receiver for fantasy purposes, behind receivers with much more established quarterbacks, such as Greg Jennings (ranked 9th) and Marques Colston (10th).