NFL: Is Larry Fitzgerald Washed Up or is He Still an Elite WR?
Prior to the 2015 season, many thought Larry Fitzgerald’s best days in the NFL were behind him. However, in his 12th year in the league, the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver proves that this sentiment is wildly inaccurate. The 32-year-old put together arguably the best season of his illustrious career, hauling a career-best 109 catches with 1,215 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, which earned him his ninth career Pro Bowl selection. This included recording at least five catches in all but three games, posting over 80 receiving yards eight times, and putting together three performances with at least eight catches and 100-plus receiving yards.
Fitzgerald also ranks inside the top 10 in the league in several receiving categories. He is tied for fifth in receptions, ninth in total receiving yards, and sixth in first-down catches (65). He also broke the Cardinals’ franchise record for receptions in a single season (which he set in the 2005 season) and he added to his team record with his seventh 1,000-yard campaign.
No. 11 became the youngest player in NFL history to surpass 1,000 career receptions. He is currently 11th on the all-time list behind several Hall of Famers such as Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Cris Carter, and a couple future Hall of Famers in Tony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, and Terrell Owens. Although Fitzgerald stated that Rice’s 1,549 career receptions is an unattainable record, he could definitely finish inside the top three if he plays a couple more seasons. He’s already the youngest player in league history to reach 11,000 career receiving yards.
It was a huge bounce-back year for Fitzgerald; many were questioning his playing ability after a significant drop-off last season, when he recorded just 63 catches for 784 yards and a career-low number of touchdowns. This was his lowest total of receptions and receiving yards total since his rookie campaign, and he even missed two games, which broke his streak of six straight seasons without missing a single game.
There was also real concern that he may have played his last game with the Cardinals following the 2014 season as his contract was set to take a $23.6 million cap hit. However, he and the Cardinals’ front office were able to avoid any potential issues by restructuring his contract and agreeing to a two-year deal, which helped create nearly $13 million in cap space.
With all that settled and a healthy Carson Palmer at the offensive helm, Fitzgerald returned to elite form in 2015. He may not be the explosive player he once was, but he has figured out how to play effectively from the slot after struggling mightily in that spot last season. No. 11 has also gotten back to being a possession wideout with his ability to line up in multiple spots on the field and utilize his crisp route-running skills.
It’s no secret that he had his fair share of problems adjusting to playing in the slot in 2014, but let’s not forget that he played with backup Drew Stanton for the final 10 games of the season. This was a significant drop-off from Palmer; Fitzgerald had developed some solid chemistry with the star wideout the season prior, posting his fifth campaign with at least 10 receiving touchdowns.
It’s also no surprise that Palmer is having an MVP-caliber season in his 13th year, with Fitzgerald playing a major part in his personal success as he captured his third career Pro Bowl selection. Palmer has put together arguably his best campaign, setting the Cardinals’ record with career highs in touchdown passes (35) and passing yards (4,671). He also posted career-best marks in passer rating (104.6), quarterback rating (82.1), and yards per completion (8.70). Palmer was in the top five in passing yards, touchdown passes, passer rating, and yards per completion.
Palmer and Fitzgerald have formed one of the league’s best duos, putting the Cardinals squarely in the hunt to capture their first championship since the NFL-AFL merger. More than anything else, Fitzgerald clearly demonstrates that he has plenty of gas left in the tank to play at an elite level. He should still be regarded as one of the league’s best wide receivers.