On the surface, Williams and Fitzgerald’s only similarities are that they’ll come into their team’s head-to-head matchup as No. 2 wide receivers for their respective teams.
Terms of Conversation Are Bizarre
We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if the Arizona Cardinals hadn’t traded for WR DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. Hopkins will enter as the outright No. 1 wideout in 2020, pushing every other WR down the depth chart.
Kirk Over Fitzgerald? Try Again.
While the buzz in Arizona in 2019 revolved around new WR Christian Kirk, the 37-year-old Fitzgerald had the better year. It wasn’t by much, but he had more targets (109 to 107), receptions (75 to 68), yards (804 to 709), yards per catch (10.7 to 10.4) and touchdowns (four to three). We also can’t forget that Kirk’s three TDs all came in one game, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, his experience combined with how teams’ defensive focus will now shift to Hopkins changes the dynamic of Fitzgerald and Kirk.
Murray Helping Fitzgerald’s Catch Rate
Now, Fitzgerald will mostly see single coverage from the opposition and is in optimal position to win one-on-one battles. His catch rate has been more than 65-percent for almost his entire career and he produced a 69-percent rate last year with quarterback Kyler Murray.
While Fitzgerald’s days of breakout plays are likely over, his usage in short-field situations in the past few years sets him up as the Cardinals’ drive-extender in 2020. Not to mention, in 2019, Fitzgerald had plenty of games without a drop/missed target and even more with missing just one ball that came his way. While he wouldn’t rack up 100-yard games often, he did rack up first downs and chunks of yards here and there in every game.
800-yard Season Not an Outlier in Fitzgerald’s Career
His short yardage usage has been a pattern throughout his career too. That’s not some kind of new plan from Arizona because he’s getting older. Fitzgerald has had nine of his 16 seasons see him surpass the 1,000-yard mark. But, the other seven? Between 700-955 yards. How many did he have last season? 804. Proving he’s on par with where he has been his entire career.
Williams, Fitzgerald More Similar in 2019 Than You’d Think
When talking about entire careers, you’d be a fool to say you know what Williams is capable of. With his rookie season cut short because of a torn ACL there aren’t many statistics or NFL game footage to go off of.
Let’s be hypothetical for one moment though.
If Williams played a full 16 games, based on what he did in the first eight, we can estimate his end of season numbers by simply multiplying them by two.
Williams would’ve finished somewhere around 856 yards on 120 targets and had approximately six TDs.
Suddenly, the way these two WRs were used in 2019 are much more similar.
Williams’ Big Plays Accompanied By Short Yardage Snags
The numbers Williams was putting up as No. 2 WR are right in tune with the way Fitzgerald’s numbers have looked for half of his career. While we did see Williams making long, miraculous toe-tapping grabs at the sidelines during games, that only proves that a lot of his grabs were in the short field too to even out his stats.
Miami @ Arizona Will Feature Williams VS Fitzgerald
In Miami and Arizona’s matchup both of these players should be open for not only their short-field drive extenders, but down the sideline for large gains too. Much of the Dolphins’ and Cardinals’ defensive units were left to be desired last season, expect Ryan Fitzpatrick and Murray to have all guns blazing in the game. With DeVante Parker likely seeing extra coverage like Hopkins, Fitzgerald and Williams will be the next man up to make the difference in the game.
Going with the coveted veteran, Fitzgerald has so much more NFL experience, that even though he hasn’t been in this offensive dynamic at any point in his career, his football IQ is through the roof on adjustments. He’ll also have had half the season to feel out how to make adjustments like this game will ask. He could easily find the end zone as well, don’t count that out against a young, rebuilding Miami secondary. But the better day stats-wise between Fitzgerald and Williams will likely come down to who will find the end zone or who will have the long play that racks up a big chunk of yards in one play.