Last year, FFToolbox and myself went out on a limb to nominate New York Giants running back David Wilson as our 2013 FFToolbox Breakout Player. At the time of the publication, it was a rather bold declaration. Wilson was still in the middle of a legitimate competition with his teammate RB Andre Brown. Neither player was really a favorite and if they were, it was for different reasons. Brown had more experience, more carries, a longer history with the coaching staff. Wilson was the athletic challenger who was supposed to come into his own after a tough rookie campaign. 2013 wasn't kind to Wilson or anyone on the Giants for that matter. When Brown went down in the preseason with an injury, all the cool kids clamored for Wilson, pushing his average draft position (ADP) into the second round! His struggles last year were well-documented and the fantasy community gave me a pretty hard time about my failed Wilson predictions. Win some and lose some. That's just the nature of being a fantasy football expert.
That's all ancient history though. This year, I'm going to get it right. Like Wilson, I'm hoping for a bounce-back. In 2014, FFToolbox is throwing its collective weight behind Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd. First, for the detractors, you might be saying to yourself, "How the heck can Floyd be a breakout? He already had a great 2013 season. He caught 65 of his 112 targets for 1,041 yards and five TDs. That's 16.0 yards per reception! Floyd only had one fewer first down reception (48) than Larry Fitzgerald (49)! This third-year receiver out of Notre Dame can't be a breakout, because he already had it! That's obvious!"
In response, I would say thanks for doing your homework. You are a good and responsible fantasy football owner. Those are all valid points and noteworthy statistics. What I mean by breakout in this instance is Floyd will be catapulting himself beyond the next tier into the upper echelons of the game. Pushing himself and his statistics further than the shackles of a modest improvement. Floyd is going to outproduce Fitzgerald and take ownership of the "No. 1 fantasy WR in Arizona" title. He may even be the best WR in the NFC West. Not only is he a strong WR2, he will flirt with WR1 numbers.
Let's take a step back for a little context. This is Larry Darnell Fitzgerald, Jr. we're talking about. This guy is fantasy royalty. He may not be one of the faces on the "Mt. Rushmore for All-Time Great Wide Receivers," but the numbers don't lie. From 2007 to 2012, Fitz was targeted at least 153 times per year. At his peak from 2007 to 2009, he averaged about 97 receptions for 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. Obviously, the former Pittsburgh alumnus isn't what he was back then and considering he will turn 31 just before the start of the regular season, it's time for the torch to exchange hands. There's a new top dog in Phoenix.
Floyd has just about everything you're looking for from a dominant No. 1 receiver. He has the size (6-foot-2, 220 lbs.), speed (4.47 yard dash at the NFL Combine back in 2012), superb hands, an aggressive route runner and some yards after the catch tenacity. While Floyd isn't particularly elusive, he does look to get up-field and this is something wide receivers will be asked to do more of in the future of the NFL. There is a new generation of receivers, possibly spear-headed by Floyd and Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson, that wants to do more with the football. Floyd has the muscle to run over smaller cornerbacks and have his way after the catch. For a great example of Floyd showing what he can do after the catch, watch him break through some tackles for a 91-yard touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And here's a GIF from another great play by Floyd against Seattle:
An example of his burst, hands and concentration to hold onto this tough touchdown reception
In 2013, Floyd came into his own and proved he has some very real potential. In his first season with Carson Palmer as his quarterback, Floyd set career-highs across the board statistically. With an improved running game, anchored by RBs Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, Floyd will have more opportunities and more first downs to work with. His 112 targets last season ranked T-30th and that is a number which should increase. A key cog in helping this offense blossom will be TE Rob Housler. Although he is severely limited as a blocker, he does have some serious potential as a receiver. By opening up the middle of the field, Floyd will have more room to operate. Needless to say though, Fitzgerald will command the most attention and as defenses struggle to contain Floyd, we're looking at a situation that could unfold just like it did in Chicago. WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery forced their opponents to pick their poison. They couldn't double team both of them, especially with RB Matt Forte piling up yards and touchdowns. Between Floyd, Fitzgerald and Ellington, Arizona must keep opponents off their balance. It doesn't help Floyd's case that he must face San Francisco and Seattle a total of four times, but that doesn't mean the whole division will perform poorly because of a few tough games.
Arizona is led by head coach Bruce Arians, who is entering his second season with the franchise after coming up through the ranks in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. His offenses are known for using two-TE looks and play-action fakes to open up passing down-the-field. The Cardinals' offensive line has been underwhelming for many years with a revolving door at offensive tackle and they're hoping for some stability at both left and right tackle. Arriving from Oakland, LT Jared Veldheer's presence allows the team to move Bradley Sowell to right tackle. At left guard, they have their 2013 first round pick, Jonathan Cooper who came over from the University of North Carolina and he should open up some running lanes to say the least. The point being that in this group, there are some new faces that are going to give Palmer and by extension Floyd a better chance to put points on the scoreboard and fantasy points on your scoreboard.
Last year, this Monday Morning Quarterback piece from Sports Illustrated indicated the Cardinals would become a little more pass-happy entering 2013 because of the arrival of Arians. Recently, Palmer (who knows a thing or two about quality receivers) said, "I spent a lot of time with him this summer and I saw him working on his hips. I've seen him kind of transform his body. He's running effortlessly, he's catching the ball effortlessly." Here's an excerpt from the Arizona Cardinals' blog on ESPN two months ago:
"Michael Floyd made a statement [during OTAs]. He looked good enough to cause quarterback Carson Palmer to gush about him during his time with the media. Floyd was making hard and easy catches, and even blew by cornerback Patrick Peterson on a go-route. On one play, Floyd made an awkward catch while falling out of bounds and Palmer ran down field to tell Floyd he should step back toward the pass before making the catch."
For further comment, I reached out to Brad Wilbricht, Scout.com's Arizona Cardinals' expert at AZRedReport.com, and he had this to say: "Floyd fell victim to an abysmal Arizona offense during his rookie campaign in 2012, causing many to write off the highly touted receiver out of Notre Dame. However, Floyd's fortune turned in 2013 after the Cardinals offense showed signs of life with Carson Palmer under center. Floyd's breakout journey led him to eventually surpass All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald as the Cardinals' leading receiver and thanks to a wide array of physical skills, Floyd has a chance to enter the elite ranks of NFL wideouts in 2014."
FFToolbox is projecting Floyd to finish this season as a bottom-rung WR1 or a very high WR2. With that ranking prediction, we have Floyd far and away ranked higher than Fitzgerald. The former Notre Dame receiver will be Arizona's primary pass-catcher, leading the team in targets, receptions, yards per reception, receiving touchdowns and more. He will put numbers on the board as a possession receiver, down-the-field deep target, yards after the catch playmaker and red zone monster. According to the ADP numbers we collect here at FFToolbox, Floyd (44.90, WR18) is already being drafted ahead of Fitzgerald (46.53, WR20). These numbers will of course fluctuate after publishing; however, this also ranks him in front of Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and many other well-established stars. If Floyd has a strong preseason or a couple big highlight reel receptions, his ADP will continue to soar and possibly even tip-toe closer to the top-12. Draft him or trade for him if you must! Arizona's No. 2 pass-catcher is about to become a No. 1.