Jan. 1, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver (11) Larry Fitzgerald makes a leaping catch under pressure from Seattle Seahawks safety (31) Kam Chancellor at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Seahawks 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals: Breaking Down the Wide Receiver Situation

Even the most casual observer knows about the sensational all-world talent of Larry Fitzgerald. Even the most casual observer knows if his QB can get the pigskin anywhere in his vicinity, more times than not, he will make the catch and sometimes makes a catch that will make your jaw drop with amazement. But for Cardinals upper management, the coaching staff and his teammates, who see him practice, already know Larry makes amazing catches look routine virtually on a daily basis. Fitzgerald is regarded as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL

Having said that, the Arizona Cardinals and their loyal fans already know who they have in Fitzgerald, but that isn’t their concern. Their concern is the need for improvement from behind center (improved QB play), better protection from the offensive line, a solid running game and a good supporting cast at wideout. However, for the sake of this argument and all things being equal, the question for today is who will be the supporting cast to help minimize double and triple coverage from Fitzgerald?

Most pundits view the Arizona Cardinals wideouts as one of the better groups in the NFL and perhaps the best group in the NFC West. But now, we need to know who the supporting cast is and why pundits feel this way.  Here is a list of wide outs that figure to be on the active 53-man roster after the dust clears by the end of training camp. I will leave a little wiggle room for another spot or two on the active roster, but for now we will concentrate on this group. Even though we are a long way from determining the actual depth chart, here is my best guess for Week 1 in St Louis on September 8.

#1 Larry Fitzgerald
#2 Andre Roberts
#3 Michael Floyd
#4 LaRon Bird
#5 Ryan Swope

Now let’s take a closer look at the rest of Fitzgerald’s supporting cast.

Second on the depth chart is fourth-year man Andre Roberts, who is 5’11” and weighs 195 pounds. The former Citadel product has the speed to be a deep threat, the foot quickness in and out of cuts and precise route running ability to line up outside or in the slot. In fact, he is regarded as one of the upper management favorites for a breakout type of year. My projection is for him to play primarily in the slot and some outside as the No. 2 receiver. Let’s see how this all plays out.

Third on the depth chart is 2nd year man Michael Floyd, at 6’3” and 220 pounds. The Notre Dame product, picked in the first round of last year’s draft, seems to be the spitting image of Fitzgerald. He has untapped ability similar to the all-world receiver. Floyd has very good hands, very strong at the point of attack (at the line of scrimmage) and very good at fighting off defenders with his strength and size as well as catching the pigskin at its high point. Floyd is a very good and aggressive blocker and is very actively involved in the down field running game. Towards the end of last season, Floyd started scratching the surface of what he could be for years to come. In the last game of the season, he had eight receptions for 166 yards and a TD. In my opinion, Floyd is a perfect fit for the second wideout position, opposite Fitzgerald.

Fourth on the depth chart is second-year man LaRon Byrd, who checks in at 6’4” and 220 pounds.  I truly believe that upper management likes what they see so far in the former undrafted priority free agent. I believe management believes he just might be a diamond in the rough. Byrd is still very raw but did well in training camp (in 2012). In fact, people were calling him “Little Fitzgerald”, because of his resemblance to Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals hope Byrd will continue to progress this year and become a huge surprise. Byrd is a lengthy receiver with very good ball skills (very good hands), very athletic and very good leaping ability. However, before we get ahead of ourselves let’s see how this plays out and how he develops in the next year or two. Furthermore, let’s see how he fits in with the new regime (Arians’ offense).

Fifth on the depth chart is this year’s 6th round draft pick Ryan Swope, at 6’0” and 205 pounds. As you will see in my player profile (for more details please read my player profile posted May 14th), I am extremely high on this former Texas A&M product. Swope has tremendous speed and quickness in and out of cuts, which is much desired in first-year coach Bruce Arians’ offensive system. Mentioning in an interview prior to the draft that he (Arians) would like a receiver with 4.2 speed to spread the field. Swope ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine prior to this year’s draft in Indianapolis, which was tied for second with Tavon Austin, now with the St Louis Rams.

He also has great ball skills, is a very good route runner and very strong at the point of attack. Swope is also a very willing and good blocker down the field, which will be great to have in the running game. He is also very good at reading coverage and knows how to slow down to find openings in zone coverage to help his QB find him. As a former running back in high school, he has a very strong lower body, is very compact and knows how to sidestep would-be tacklers. This makes him a very good fit at the slot receiver and very good on bubble screens coming out of the backfield. I believe early in his career Swope will be used primarily in the slot and will also be a much needed deep threat target for Carson Palmer in Arians’ offensive system. Let’s see how this also plays out during training camp.

After reviewing Fitzgerald’s running mates at the wide receiver position, it’s easy to see why many pundits think the Arizona Cardinals have one of the better WR groups in the NFL. The potential at the position has much cause for some excitement for loyal Cardinals fans. However, in my estimation, the key word here is potential. In reality, no one really knows how all this will play out. Because most of Larry’s running mates are very young and full of potential.

Arians and staff has a long way to go installing his new offensive system and determining how all the pieces will fit. So in all actuality, no one really knows how all this will transpire. So I guess we will all need to stay tuned to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Cardinal fans will get to see Fitzgerald and his running mates, Arians’ new offensive system, in training camp starting the beginning of August and the season opener on September 8, on the road in St Louis.

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Tags: Andre Roberts Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald Michael Floyd NFL Ryan Swope

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