The 2017 Arizona Cardinals season was filled with injuries and lackluster play from around the roster. There were some great performances, but as a whole, the team struggled with consistency. Nowhere is that more profound than the wide receiver room. The stat lines show a clearly superior target followed by players who seem to lack the ability to either catch or get open. Today we take a look at the position group as a whole and what can be done for 2018.
Earning Their Keep
The first name which stands out to anyone reading the stat sheets is Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran pass catcher finished with over 100 catches and 1,000 yards receiving in 2017. That marked the third straight season of over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards. Fitzgerald continued his career progression into a dominant slot receiver and finished with six scores on the year.
Outside of Fitzgerald, no Cardinals receiver hit 35 receptions. The closest was running back Andre Ellington with 33 receptions, tied with tight end Jermaine Gresham. The closest receiver was Jaron Brown with 31 catches. The Cardinals have a major problem moving forward as Ellington is no longer with the team and Gresham is coming back from a season ending Achilles injury.
For the wide receiving group, injuries were not the issue. The issue was a lack of an on-field presence outside of Fitzgerald. As seen with the reception numbers, no one in the position group accounted for more than 31 receptions. Heading into the season many believed John Brown would likely step up and make a difference after missing significant time in 2016. The speedster played in just 10 games in 2017. Jaron Brown played in all 16 games, but made just 31 catches on 69 targets.
The rest of the unit struggled to find significant playing time on offense. J.J. Nelson was the only other receiver outside of Brown and Fitzgerald to play in all 16 games. Nelson was targeted 61 times and pulled in 29 receptions. For players who are asked to push back the secondary and make plays in single coverage, the group immensely underperformed.
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The Cardinals face the possible loss of Golden and both Browns due to free agency. That leaves Fitzgerald and a group which combined for 32 receptions for the Cardinals in 2017. The issue facing Arizona is the lack of long-term flexibility due to Fitzgerald’s yearly retirement saga. The Cardinals would be wise to begin rebuilding the group while their star receiver remains on the roster to help teach the young guys and to contribute to the offense.
The NFL draft will likely be the place for general manager Steve Keim to get the most talent for the right price. The Cardinals aren’t flush with cash, but they are entering free agency with a little more than $20 million in cap space. It would be wise to pick up one or two receivers in free agency, hopefully under $10 million a season combined, while also drafting a couple of receivers in the draft.
At the end of the day the offense needs the passing game to return to former glory. While the team figures out who will be throwing the passes, ignoring the pass catchers is something they can longer afford. The legendary Fitzgerald is getting close to ending his career, now is the time to find him a protegé and help boost the room.