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Larry Fitzgerald: Discovering the Fountain of Youth

After a string of underwhelming seasons, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald had the looks of a washed-up veteran. Despite the list of things working against him, Fitz has turned back the clocks with an impressive, and seemingly rejuvenated, 2015 campaign.

Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after hauling in a 4th quarter touchdown in Cleveland
Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after hauling in a 4th quarter touchdown in Cleveland
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Entering the 2015 season, there were plenty of reasons to doubt that a meaningful statistical year from Cardinals veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald would be on the horizon.  First off, he was going into his 12th year in the NFL at the age of 32. Additionally, Larry was set to count for a massive $23.6 million against the Cardinals' cap in 2015, making him a prime candidate to be traded or cut.  Last but not least, Fitz had shown signs of sharp decline in his abilities the past few years, failing to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for three years in a row (2012-14).  This, of course, was after he averaged a whopping 1,202 yards per season after his first 8 years in the league (2004-11).  In that span, he went over 1,400 yards in a mind-boggling four different campaigns.  Clearly, the legendary early and middle part of his career yielded Hall of Fame numbers, proving that he is one of the great wideouts of this generation.  Regardless of his productive past, nobody expected Larry Fitzgerald to have the resurgence that he has had thus far in 2015, both in real life and for fantasy owners alike.

Drafted, on average, as the 29th overall fantasy wide receiver on ESPN online drafts, Fitz slotted in right behind Vikings WR Mike Wallace.  Just for fun, let's put this into perspective.  Going about 30 picks ahead of Fitzgerald were wideouts like Redskins WR DeSean Jackson, while Colts veteran WR Andre Johnson was drafted 15 picks before him as well. This put his draft stock right at 83rd overall, also behind other underwhelming positional players such as Giants RB Rashad Jennings, who slotted in with an average draft position of 78.5.  Before the season kicked off, nobody would have argued that he wasn't deserving of that low ADP, myself included.  However, something magnificent has occurred this year for Fitz and the Arizona Cardinals.  Playing in Bruce Arians' offense with a healthy Carson Palmer at the helm, Larry Fitzgerald seems to have truly discovered the ever-elusive "Fountain of Youth".

Larry Fitzgerald has always thrived with a quality signal caller.  Whether that meant the legendary Kurt Warner or a healthy and capable Carson Palmer, Fitz has proven to be drastically more effective with a good quarterback.  And for the record, Drew Stanton and/or Ryan Lindley do not count as quality signal callers.  On a per game basis, Fitzgerald was averaging about 70 yards during the first nine games of 2014 with Palmer playing.  While that isn't spectacular by any means, he certainly wasn't showing many signs up being a washed-up veteran.  However, in Week 10 against the Rams, Carson Palmer went down with a torn ACL in his left knee.  This was the beginning of the end for Larry Fitzgerald, as numerous incompetent backups just couldn't get the ball to him on a consistent basis.  He was still being targeted plenty, but that simply didn't transition into solid statistics.  Aside from his two missed game due to a sprained MCL in weeks 12 and 13, Larry Fitzgerald hadn't sat out a single contest since 2007.  Even in the five remaining weeks that Fitzgerald played at the end of the season with a backup quarterback slinging him the ball, he couldn't muster up anywhere close to the yardage he gained with Palmer earlier in the season.  In those games, he averaged a paltry 31.8 yards and never even exceeded 34 yards.  Slowed by his knee injury and poor quarterback play, Larry Fitzgerald was entering the offseason as a quickly declining veteran wide receiver with his best days almost surely behind him.

Then 2015 happened.  With a fast-paced offense led by a now healthy Carson Palmer, there was reason for optimism this season.  Still, like previously mentioned, there were even more reasons to doubt that a productive statistical year was in the near future.  Young wideouts John Brown and Michael Floyd were big parts of the offense in 2014, and they figured to remain integral pieces of Arizona's offense this season as well.  Targets were evenly distributed between the trio of Cardinal receivers, which put a damper on all three of their fantasy outlooks for this year.  For good reason, most fantasy analysts pegged Brown and Floyd as the higher upside options of their passing attack.  But it didn't take long for the savvy veteran to once again claim his dominance over the younger options.  A revived Larry Fitzgerald burst onto the scene in the first month of the season, hauling in 432 yards from 30 receptions, five of which went for touchdowns.  Since then, he has cooled down a bit, but this University of Pittsburgh product still remains a dominant force in fantasy as a current top 5 scorer at his position.

In Week 10, Fitzgerald came off of his bye week and had the tough task of traveling to Seattle to take on the once-feared "Legion of Boom".  There were rumors of Richard Sherman shadowing Fitz, but he shrugged them off, saying that Sherman should focus on the younger Cardinal wideouts instead of covering an "old, grizzly, washed-up veteran".  Maybe this tactic actually worked, as Sherman manned the left side of the field on Sunday night.  Fitzgerald moved all over the place, including the slot, taking on a similar role to what Hines Ward used to play for Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh.  Larry proceeded to shred the Seahawks secondary all night, gaining chunk yardage on multiple occasions, many of which were chain-moving receptions.  With John Brown ailing and Michael Floyd hurting his hamstring after a superb early performance, Carson Palmer peppered Fitz with targets.  He ended up grabbing 10 out of his 15 targets, which he turned into 130 receiving yards.

As the undeniable top receiving threat on one of the NFL's most prolific offenses, Larry Fitzgerald is enjoying his best season in recent memory.  After his first month of play, it didn't seem feasible for him to keep up his historic pace. However, we are heading into Week 11 in the NFL, and Fitz is on pace for 151 targets, 116 receptions, 1,486 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns.  Twelve years into his majestic NFL campaign, those receptions and receiving yards would set career records for Fitz, while his season high for touchdowns is only 13.  A combination of scheme, quarterback play, and his surrounding weapons all combine to give Larry Fitzgerald possibly his most potential in his entire career.  He continues to be a tough player who takes walloping hits across the middle of the field but still manages to hang on to the rock.  In terms of fantasy football, Fitz has entrenched himself as a top 10 WR for the rest of the season, while nobody would be surprised if he finished the year close to (or inside) the top 5 at his position.  As Carson Palmer's go-to target, he's as safe as they come for producing quality numbers, regardless of his opponent.  It truly is remarkable for someone of his age to discover the so-called "Fountain of Youth", but Fitz obviously found it.

Check out this article plus more fantasy football material over on my new blog:  Fantasy Galaxy