Does Michael Floyd Deserve to Be a Starting Wide Receiver for the Arizona Cardinals?
Everyone knows the story of Wally Pipp. Perhaps one of the best power hitters in the dead ball era, legend has it that the Yankees first baseman asked to take the day off due to a headache, paving the way for Lou Gehrig to take his place and start the next 2,130 consecutive games for New York.
Ever since then, whenever a player loses his starting job to injury, that player is said to have been "Wally Pipped."
And in no sport do players get 'Wally Pipped' more often than in the NFL. In a sport where injuries are a common occurrence, and with the NFL's "next man up" mentality, depth charts are in constant flux as players fill in and replace one another.
In Arizona, this is exactly what has been going on with the Cardinals' number-two wide receiver position. Injuries and excellent play by both John Brown and Michael Floyd have caused these two to seesaw back and forth in a battle for the starting spot next to Larry Fitzgerald.
But with Bruce Arians recently saying Floyd has likely won his starting job back from Brown, many are wondering if things will be like this to stay, or if it will just be a matter of time before Brown overtakes Floyd once again.
Floyd Peaking at the Right Time
Floyd started the year off extremely slowly, which shouldn't be a surprise considering the severity of the hand injury he was coming back from.
Over the first five games of the year, Floyd converted just 16 targets into 8 receptions for 104 yards and no touchdowns.
However, Bruce Arians never lost faith in Floyd and continued his efforts to get his young wideout "going." While Floyd saw just 26.3 snaps per game over the team's first three contests, Arians continued to increase his workload getting his snap count up to 49.2 per game from Week 4 onward.
And, boy, did Floyd respond to the opportunity.
In Weeks 6 through 8 Floyd has turned 20 targets into 12 receptions for 215 yards and has caught a touchdown in each of the last three games. And while his 60.0% catch rate isn't exactly a record-breaking mark, his overall efficiency -- as evidenced by 1.14 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target over this timespan -- is quite impressive.
For those unfamiliar, NEP is our signature metric here at numberFire. If you contribute to your team's chances of scoring above expectation you receive a positive NEP, and a negative score when you do the opposite.
Not only has Floyd contributed more to his team's chances of scoring on a per target basis from Week 6 onward, but also his stellar performance over the last three weeks has propelled him into the top-20 in terms of receiving efficiency, ranking 19th in terms of Reception NEP per target among all wideouts with at least 30 targets on the year heading into the team's Week 9 bye.
But is all this enough to justify Floyd overtaking Brown as the Cardinals' second option in the passing game?
One Good Wally Pipp Deserves Another
When Floyd went down to injury earlier this offseason, Brown went on to make the most of Floyd's injury and leapfrog him on the depth chart. Indeed, Brown has started the year off hot by pulling in 37 of 51 targets for 562 yards and 3 touchdowns over the first seven games of the season.
But with Brown slowed recently with hamstring injuries over the last few weeks and Floyd coming on strong, it seems as if Floyd has done enough to return the favor. When we look at these two talented receivers head-to-head -- despite playing the first half of the season on opposing trajectories -- Brown and Floyd have nearly identical numbers to one another.
While Brown owns a robust 0.86 Reception NEP per target, Floyd has raised his mark to a near equal 0.84 figure. Both wideouts have also had success in stretching opposing defenses, with Brown and Floyd averaging 15.2 and 16.0 yards per reception, respectively. And on the year, both wideouts have also reeled in three touchdowns apiece.
However, Brown has edged out Floyd in a few departments. Brown has demonstrated he has the more dependable hands of the two, with his 72.5% catch rate dwarfing Floyd's 55.6% mark. Beyond this, Brown has drawn a number of long pass interference calls that have put his team into scoring position, contributions that do not show up in the box score. Brown's Target NEP (the points added based on all targets dedicated to a player) of 27.33 also bests Floyd's mark of 16.91.
Fitzgerald's Target NEP (46.60) topped the list of 68 receivers with at least 30 targets entering Week 9. Brown ranked 14th, and Floyd was 30th.
But all in all -- with Brown playing at less than 100% and Floyd responding to an increased workload with superb production -- it looks as if Floyd has done enough to convince the coaching staff he deserves the number-two wideout role in this offense.
An Ongoing Season Long Battle
It looks as if the Cardinals have a true depth chart battle on their hands, with Floyd and Brown duking it out for the number-two wide receiver job in Arizona. And, at least for the time being, it looks as if Floyd has gained the upper hand with his recent play. But with both these wideouts possessing an incredible amount of talent, this likely won't be the last time this year these two receivers leapfrog one another in the pecking order.
However, with the Cardinals' employing plenty of three wide sets and Carson Palmer playing at an elite level, all this jockeying for position may not matter all too much. Indeed, with an offense that ranks as the second most efficient unit in the league according to our NEP metrics, there looks to be enough production on this offense to sustain three viable receiving options on this team.