Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been in a version of NFL jail the past few years, but 2013 should be the year he breaks out. The additions of Carson Palmer at quarterback and offensive-minded Bruce Arians at head coach will give him the support he needs to get back to being right up there with the best receivers in the league.
Fitzgerald is, despite his declining production the last few years, still considered a top-tier player at his position. It’s too bad for him that it’s also the most dependent position in the league.
If a receiver doesn’t have a quarterback throwing him the ball in positions where he can make the catch, it doesn’t matter how good he is, and no high end receiver in the league has had a bigger chasm between their talents and the talents of the players throwing to them than Fitzgerald has the past few years.
He made his mark in the league during a three-year stretch from 2007 to 2009 where he put up an average of 98 receptions per year and hauled in a total of 35 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, those were the last three years he had Kurt Warner throwing him the ball.
Since then, it’s been the likes of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb under center for the Cardinals, and his statistics have understandably suffered. But this year should be different.
This year, the Cardinals brought in the strong-armed veteran Palmer to fix their quarterback problems. Despite surely having his best seasons behind him, Palmer still has to be an upgrade over where the team has been at the quarterback position since Warner left. And with an upgrade in quarterback will come a re-emergence of the greatness that Fitzgerald has in him.
No one doubts his ability. When he’s had the opportunity, Fitzgerald has been one of the true difference-makers in the league at wideout. He’s one of the few players that doesn’t have to actually be open in order to make a catch. Warner has often said that he would throw balls to Fitzgerald that he wouldn’t even think about throwing to other receivers, especially on deep balls.
And it’s those deep balls that will make the difference for Fitzgerald and the Cardinals in 2013. Palmer is an accomplished deep ball passer, with excellent accuracy to go with his big arm.
Those deep balls will be the weapon Fitzgerald and the Cardinals offense as a whole need to open things up this year. Palmer can put the ball in spots where Fitzgerald can use his leaping ability to beat defenders to the catch. That deep threat will open the field for the underneath routes, and will once again unleash Fitzgerald on a league not capable of holding him down.
The rest of the NFL should be feeling uneasy about the prospect of Fitzgerald being free to dominate again in 2013, but Cardinals fans should be really excited.