Which Cardinals Wide Receiver Should Fantasy Football Owners Target?

Because Larry Fitzgerald is entering his age-32 season and Michael Floyd had a downer of a season in 2014, is John Brown the receiver to own in Arizona?

As it stands right now, the Cardinals' pass catching corps is a bit convoluted for fantasy football purposes.

There are three wide receivers, all of whom offer different things on the field from an offensive standpoint -- and all three are going within 48 overall spots of another according to My Fantasy League average draft position.

So, the question is which one should fantasy owners target for 2015? Currently, Michael Floyd is the WR31 off the board while 32-year-old veteran Larry Fitzgerald is the WR40 and second-year wideout John Brown is the 50th wide receiver taken, on average.

Given their cost, last year's on-field advanced metrics and their relative fantasy production, let's take a deep dive into the Cards' receivers.

2014 Productivity

Keep in mind that 35-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer only started a total of six games last year after a nerve issue in his shoulder and an ACL-tear suffered in Week 10 shortened his season. Therefore, the Cardinals' receivers saw a brutal mix of quarterback play from both Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley, who finished 29th and 40th respectively in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per attempt among the 45 quarterbacks with 90 or more drop backs on the season.

Needless to say, the Cardinals' receivers were affected by their whirlwind of team quarterback play last season.

Still though, last year's receiving breakdown by these receivers can't be ignored. Below is each pass catcher's per-game totals along with his relative Reception NEP and Success Rate, the percentage of his receptions that led to positive expected points gains for the team. Overall ranking among the 87 receivers with 50 or more targets on the 2014 season is denoted in parenthesis.

NameGTgt/GRec/GYds/GY/RTDs/GRec. NEP/TgtSuccess Rate
M. Floyd166.22.952.617.90.380.69 (40th)82.98% (54th)
L. Fitzgerald147.44.556. (45th)82.54% (56th)
J. Brown166.43.043.514.50.310.66 (44th)81.08% (62nd)

What may come as a surprise to fantasy footballers, rookie John Brown actually slightly out-targeted Michael Floyd last year on a per-game basis and Brown was just two targets away from leading the team in total targets (Fitzgerald had 103 targets, Brown had 102, and Floyd had 99). However, Larry Fitzgerald did miss two games and was limited some of the season with an MCL injury.

Still, just based on a few years of prior history, it's safe to say we know what Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald's roles are in the Cardinals system. Floyd will never be a volume-monster in head coach Bruce Arians' scheme -- he's never seen more than 113 targets in a season (2013) -- and at his advancing age Fitzgerald is best suited for slot-duty, where he ran 60.3% of his routes in 2014.

This makes the 5'11" 179-pound Pittsburg State receiver with 4.34 wheels, John Brown, the wildcard.

A Wide Receiver Trio

What makes all three of the Cardinals wideouts appetizing in a fantasy sense is two are going after Round 8 in re-draft leagues -- except for Michael Floyd who is going in Round 6 of drafts -- and it's fair to assume all three might have a chance to beat their draft day cost.

But which one should owners target in re-draft and best-ball leagues?

Using last year's fantasy efficiency metrics like fantasy points per route run (FPs/RR) and fantasy points per target (FPs/Tgt) we'll find that all three Cardinals receivers were a bit of a disappointment in a fantasy sense last season. All scoring is points per reception (PPR).

Larry Fitzgerald36.119.8%9.91.550.301.5310.9
Michael Floyd36.615.9%19.11.440.281.7910.4
John Brown28.720.5%15.81.520.321.569.2

Two major things should stick out here: Michael Floyd ran the most routes per game and had the highest average depth of target (aDOT) on the team last year but was only targeted on 15.9% of his routes and failed to separate himself in per-route and per-target efficiency.

In fact, Floyd may just be a volatile, boom-or-bust player in general. Among the 48 wide receivers with 15 or more targets that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, 54.5% of Floyd's PPR output came from such passing targets on the field. That was the second highest amount in the league last year and the NFL average on percentage of output that came from pass targets 20-plus yards down field was 29.7%.

Keep in mind here, Floyd is a sixth-round pick while Larry Fitzgerald is an eighth-rounder and John Brown is being selected in the early-to-mid ninth.

Picking From the Bunch

In addition to the relative cost of each, the Cardinals receiving core as a whole was a bit of an up-and-down group in terms of bankable production last year. Floyd only manged one more PPR top-24 scoring week (4) than Fitzgerald and Brown both mustered (3).

Given how we know these receivers are being used on the field and how all three somewhat underachieved in 2014 even with poor quarterback play, is Floyd really worth a two-round difference in average draft position?

I'm not so sure Floyd is a great bet in the sixth round and our early projections agree. But as stated earlier, John Brown is the wild card here. Right now, he's the cheapest of the three Cardinals receivers and may have the most upside out of the three. Remember, no Cards' receiver really separated himself in terms of production and efficiency last year.

Larry Fitzgerald could have some really nice weeks with Carson Palmer back healthy, but at his advancing age and with Michael Floyd's stagnant role -- I think I would rather take a stab at John Brown's ceiling at his WR50 price tag.