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Friday, July 27, 2012
Fitzgerald and Cardinals' big-play ability

By Mike Sando

Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson belong on any list featuring wide receivers with the ability to make plays well downfield.

New England's Brandon Lloyd, formerly of St. Louis, lacks their breakaway speed, but he's deceptively fast. And if you're familiar with the elevated yards-per-reception stats he's posted in recent years, you know he deserves a mention as well.

Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald fits a different mold physically. He's at least three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than the others. He's not scary fast by NFL standards.

But in a rankings package ESPN Stats & Information distributed recently, Fitzgerald showed up with Wallace, Jackson and Lloyd as the only NFL players with more than 25 receptions covering 25-plus yards over the past two seasons. Fitzgerald averaged a career-high 17.6 yards per reception last season, up from 12.6 in 2010 and 11.3 the year before. I'm not entirely sure why the average jumped so much, but its' something that could be worth investigating as the offense takes shape for this season.

The chart, provided by Kareem White of ESPN Stats & Information, breaks out additional information on the receptions covering at least 25 yards since 2010. We see that Fitzgerald gained a higher percentage of his yardage after the catch, no surprise given his size and the others' speed. Lloyd gained far less of his yardage that way, a reflection of the downfield passing attack Josh McDaniels ran in Denver and St. Louis.

The Cardinals struggled with consistency on offense last season, but they did connect for big plays in the passing game. They finished with 15 receptions of at least 40 yards, fifth-most in the league. Arizona had sufficient playmakers even before adding Michael Floyd in the first round of the draft this year. The key for the Cardinals will be gaining consistency without losing explosiveness.