Our next debate features two of the best wide receivers over the last decade. Veteran wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson have been serious fantasy producers for the majority of their careers, but with the incoming breed of young, talented receivers, both have become a bit more of an afterthought than in year’s past. Still, both are easily inside my top-10 wide receiver rankings, and if I had to choose one to lead my wide receiving corp, who would it be?
Making the case for Fitzgerald
In my eyes, outside of Calvin Johnson, Fitzgerald is still the best receiver in football. His hands are unmatched, route running is crisp and he can go up and make any play with any corner or safety. In 2012, many people probably forgot about that because of the lackluster numbers he put up. It was the first time Fitz posted less than 1,000 receiving yards since 2006, and his four touchdowns was a career low. Of course, we all know what the quarterback situation did to his fantasy value. The ugly trio of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. Among passes traveling 20 yards or more, only two that were thrown last year by Arizona quarterbacks were actually catchable. The addition of Carson Palmer will help Fitzgerald immensely. Palmer isn’t afraid to take the deep shots, and with new head coach Bruce Arians calling the shots, expect that to be heavily involved in the playbook. Arians is a guy who loves to sling the ball around, and considering the lack of talent at the running back position, I’d expect him to use his future Hall of Fame wideout early and often. Keep in mind, under Arians in 2009, Santonio Holmes posted the best statistical season of his career. Also, in 2001 with the Browns, Kevin Johnson (google him) caught an impressive 84 balls for 1,097 yards and nine scores. If Arians can get these guys to post strong numbers, I can’t wait to see how a stud like Fitzgerald will benefit. Arians is already implementing Fitz out of the slot, just like he did last year in Indy with Reggie Wayne, who went on to post the second-best statistical season of his career. Fitzgerald is too strong, to smart to not bounce back from last season’s disaster. Expect another top-10 finish from one of the game’s greats.
Making the case for Johnson
After missing 12 games over the previous two seasons, Johnson managed to stay on the field for all 16 games in 2012, and fantasy owners couldn’t be happier. He caught 112 balls for 1,598 yards (career high) and four touchdowns. Of course, the touchdowns are always difficult to predict, but in the Texans offense, they may be a bit easier, considering the high volume of attempts Arian Foster gets. He’s also the best running back in terms of short yardage situation, so it’s hard for Johnson to get many end zone looks. When the Texans were inside an opponent’s 10-yard line last season, they called 50 rushing plays (2nd) compared to 24 passing plays (18th). Still, his 2012 campaign helped him return into the elite wide receiver talks, finishing as fantasy’s number eight wideout. Perhaps for the first time of his career, Johnson may have a complementary receiver across from him. For the first time since 2003 (Johnson), the Texans selected a wide receiver in the first round of the draft. DeAndre Hopkins is a physical specimen with some serious athleticism that should pose as more of a threat than guys like Kevin Walter and company were in the past. This bodes well for Johnson if Hopkins can come on in his rookie year. Johnson will continue to be the Texans’ most productive receiving option inside the 20’s. His 0.56 fantasy points per opportunity in PPR formats last year was fifth-best in football and he posted nine games with at least eight grabs. After being targeted 164 times last year, he’ll get the looks from Matt Schaub, but will he get them where they count most?
Let’s be honest. As great as both of these guy are, both are way past their prime, so fantasy owners shouldn’t be projecting monstrous numbers. Still, both are more than skilled to be top-10 fantasy wideouts, but if I had to put my money on one of them, it would be Fitzgerald. I just think last year was an absolute fluke and Fitzgerald is just way too good to not be an elite fantasy receiver. His team’s coaching style and offensive system have him better suited to produce better fantasy numbers. This isn’t a knock on Johnson, as I think he’ll still finish as at least a top-12 option, but Fitzgerald has a better chance to post those monstrous numbers that fantasy owners are looking for out of their number one receiver.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.