Death, taxes, and Larry Fitzgerald producing on the football field. There are few certainties in life, but the next player in my Veteran Values series is one of them. Over the past three seasons, Fitzgerald has caught over 100 passes for at least 1000 yards and 6 touchdowns. In PPR scoring, those figures were for finishes of WR7, WR10, and WR5 from 2015 – 2017 (thanks to Addison Hayes’ FF Statistics).
Although he will turn 35 before the start of the 2018 season, the future Hall of Famer shows no signs of slowing down in his production, despite playing last season with a motley crew of back up QBs.
A lot has changed in Arizona since last season. Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have retired, with Sam Bradford and Steve Wilks taking their places. However, Fitzgerald is back for 2018 and has the chance to move past T.O. into 2nd all-time in receiving yards behind Jerry Rice. We don’t know if this will be Fitzgerald’s last season in the league, but even if it is, he’s the perfect one-year rental for contending dynasty teams.
Sam Bradford was signed to be the Cardinals’ starting QB despite his well-publicized history with knee injuries, and the Cardinals opened up the checkbook to secure his signature. Bradford signed a $20million ($15million guaranteed) contract for 2018 (per Spotrac), making it a fair to assume that the Cardinals have a significant degree of comfort from a medical perspective. New coach Steve Wilks has also expressed his hope for Bradford to become their long-term starter. Both things lead me to believe that the Cardinals expect Bradford to be on the field for most of the season.
Even if Bradford doesn’t play 16 games, Fitzgerald played last season with a combination of an elderly Carson Palmer, underwhelming Drew Stanton, and never-was Blaine Gabbert, so I am confident that Fitzgerald will continue to produce regardless of the QB starting under center – yes, even if back-up Mike Glennon is called into action.
Assuming Bradford stays on the field, I expect him to develop a strong rapport with Fitzgerald. Using Josh Hermsmeyer’s airyards.com we can see that Bradford’s preferred distribution of targets over his career has been below the league average of approximately 7 yards.
This fits well with Fitzgerald’s receiving profile over the past 3 years (since his slot production skyrocketed), where he boasts a catch rate far above the league average on targets between 5- and 10-yards.
The majority of his targets are also in this depth range too.
If Bradford stays healthy, Fitzgerald will be the beneficiary of short and accurate passes. In his most productive and efficient season to date (2016), Bradford completed a then NFL record 71.3% of his passes, which coincided with his lowest career average depth of target (ADOT) of 6.4 yards. While a repeat of that level of efficiency is unlikely, even if Bradford only reaches his career completion of 62.6%, Fitzgerald will prosper.
Fitzgerald should also have a monopoly over the Cardinals’ target share, with Jaron Brown and John Brown both departing via free agency and J.J Nelson predominantly acting as a deep threat and a field stretcher rather than a high-volume receiver (career ADOT of 18.3). Over the past three seasons, Fitzgerald has seen 458 targets, and with 124 from 2017 departing in the form of WRs Brown and Brown, there’s a great chance Fitzgerald sees at least 150 targets, especially given Bradford’s inclination to make short and intermediate passes.
In the latest DFF ADP, Fitzgerald comes in at 88 overall and WR42 in startup ADP. Considering that Fitzgerald has not finished worse than WR10 in the past three seasons, he is a bargain, especially given that WRs such as Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, and Jordy Nelson are being drafted ahead of him. If you’re drafting a new team this offseason, and you’re a proponent of the “win-now” start-up strategy, Fitzgerald is a perfect target in the 7th-8th round. Alternatively, if you’re trying to bolster a contending roster, I would happily pay a mid-2nd round pick (in 1QB leagues) for potential 2018 WR1 PPR production – even if you only get one year of production. You should also be able to flip a younger unproven asset in a similar or even later ADP range in leagues where Fitzgerald is in a middle-of-the-pack or rebuilding roster.
Let me know what you think of Fitzgerald for 2018, and whether you’re buying him this offseason on Twitter @FF_DownUnder.