Arizona Cardinals pre-NFL Draft wide receiver outlook

An incredible season from Larry Fitzgerald spurred the Cardinals' offense in 2015, but the team's depth at wide receiver may not be as stable as it appears.

Current Roster Number: 7 (Jaron Brown, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Brittan Golden, J.J. Nelson, Jaxon Shipley)

Ideal Roster Number: 5-6

Returning Starters: 2/2 (Fitzgerald, Floyd)

Draft Need: Low to Moderate Priority

Roster Composition: The Arizona Cardinals received a gift from the football gods last season when 12-year NFL veteran Larry Fitzgerald reinvented himself as one of the NFL's most dynamic slot receivers. 

In the past two to three seasons, Fitzgerald's production had declined to the point where Arizona was uncertain how much its star wide receiver could contribute, but in 2015, Fitzgerald proved all of his doubters wrong with a career-high 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns. 

The versatility Fitzgerald brought to the Cardinals' offense last season was staggering, especially considering the 32-year-old was coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 2004. 

The Cardinals are still paying Fitzgerald money befitting of a player who should catch 100 passes in a season, but this is the final year Fitzgerald is scheduled to make upward of $15 million before back-to-back club options kick in at a significantly reduced rate. 

Fitzgerald's upcoming salary reduction should give the Cardinals more flexibility to diversify their spending within a deep receiving unit, where two key players have contracts set to expire at the end of 2016. 

The largest wide receiver contract set to come off the books this year is that of Michael Floyd, who has been a consistent threat for the Cardinals over the last three seasons. Floyd only caught 52 passes last year, which is a low total for a starting wideout, but he has averaged more than 16 yards per catch in each of the last three seasons and is a great option opposite of Fitzgerald.

Floyd's production actually ranked him third among Cardinals' wideouts, as Pittsburg State product John Brown hauled in 65 catches for 1,003 yards in just his second NFL season. Brown is signed through 2017 and comes to the team at a bargain thanks to a rookie deal that keeps his compensation below $1 million annually, so the Cardinals are assuredly excited to see Brown back in the mix.

Beyond the top three options, the Cardinals didn't have another receiver catch more than 11 passes last season. Quarterback Carson Palmer was able to target his backs and tight ends effectively, but Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson both struggled to maintain consistency within the offense. 

Brown is back with the team on a one-year deal, while Nelson was a fifth round draft pick in 2015 and is signed through 2018. 

Considering the age of Fitzgerald and the youth of players like John Brown and Nelson, the Cardinals are in relatively good shape at wide receiver moving forward. If Fitzgerald can produce one to two more strong seasons while Brown and others continue to learn from one of the franchise's all-time greats, Arizona will be able to withstand the eventual loss of Fitzgerald when he decides to retire.

Draft Outlook

Though we consider the team's need at wide receiver a low to moderate priority, it's conceivable general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians could make a move on a wide receiver early in the draft if they're truly intent on taking the best player available. 

The team could justify the pick by adding a player through the draft on a rookie contract which would allow the Cardinals to continue to stockpile potential replacements for Fitzgerald, or to have a piece in place in the event Floyd signs elsewhere next offseason. 

Furthermore, there's a great batch of talented receivers at the top of the draft in players like Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman and Josh Doctson, so perhaps a player right below that top-tier of guys (maybe Will Fuller) falls to the Cardinals at No. 29 and is too good to pass up. 

Ultimately, there are more important options for the Cardinals to address in the draft. However, the team's roster is in a strong position to make a run at another division title, and another playmaker at wide receiver would certainly benefit the offense. 


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