Deep Sleeping: Michael Floyd

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Hello there. This is a post in which we’ll bravely explore the dark and deepest depths of depth charts, looking for sleepers who are sometimes absurdly deep that you should watch out for either as a late-round flier, or an early season waiver wire add. I’ll also be wrong often in this post, so you can enjoy that too.

There’s a wide receiver in Arizona who’s potentially set to blossom in his suddenly new surroundings, and this wide receiver is not named Larry Fitzgerald.

Oh, he’ll go boom too surely, and start to do far more Larry Fitzgerald-like things following a season spent dealing with the ilk of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton after Kevin Kolb combusted behind an offensive line that allowed a league worst 58 sacks. Around these parts, though, we’re more interested in late-round value and exploiting it, and then never shutting up about our superior intelligence.

We’re more interested in Michael Floyd.

Bruce Arians’ vertical scheme is perfect for all involved here, from Carson Palmer with his booming arm, and Fitzgerald’s bounding downfield strides. And then there’s Floyd, whose route running may be lacking, but his speed, hands, and leaping ability aren’t.

Much was expected of Floyd when he was drafted with the 13th overall pick a year ago. The hope is that he’ll fill the void vacated by Anquan Boldin when he left after the 2009 season, and be a threatening complementary option opposite Fitz. That didn’t happen, at least not immediately.

Possibly due to a poor work ethic during his first training camp, the former Notre Dame standout had an exceedingly sluggish start. But the encouragement for 2013 is easy to locate. Look at those second-half numbers…

  • Floyd in the first half of 2012: averaged 3.6 targets per game, 1.6 receptions, and 15 yards
  • Second half: 7.1 targets, 4.3 receptions, 54.4 yards

To be fair, much of the ballooning in that small sample size came during the Cardinals’ Week 17 loss to San Francisco, when Floyd exploded for 166 yards on eight catches. You can either choose to view that game as an aberration, or as a notable achievement against the league’s fourth best passing defense (the 49ers allowed only 200.2 passing yards per game, and that day Floyd had 166 yards on his own).

I’ll optimistically go with the latter, while noting that against the same Niners secondary which finished tied for third in +20 yard receptions allowed (only 38), Floyd had catches of 30, 37, and 53 yards. Additionally, two weeks earlier his 25-yard catch against the Lions was more yardage on a single grab than his totals in six other games. He was finding space deep more often in the second half of 2012 while accumulating 435 of his 562 total yards in Week 9 and beyond. He has hops and quicks, as the kids say…

What’s more encouraging for the likelihood of a quick second-year surge from Floyd is his usage. While providing a thorough breakdown of Floyd’s route running flaws which need to be corrected, Revenge of the Birds noted that despite his general doghouse residency, he was still used in 57 percent of the Cards’ offensive snaps starting in Week 3. That led to Floyd finishing tied for the team lead with 0.28 fantasy points per route run. Toss in Floyd being targeted much more during OTAs (for what that’s worth) and guys who write about the Cardinals for a living saying it’s “a given” that he breaks out, and maybe his buy-low period won’t last long.

But oh, there’s more.

When Palmer was acquired from the Raiders for several packs of Bublicious, the Cardinals received a quarterback who’s removed from his prime, and he’s aging while slowly accumulating layers of stone around his body which limit all forward movement. He’s not the Palmer we knew before his knee bent in a direction against its intended designed back in 2005, and despite the addition of first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, Arizona’s offensive line still does far more bursting than stopping.

That’s the bad news. But as Pete Prisco noted in his tape study of Palmer during the 2012 season when he was playing with a far inferior group of Raiders receivers, rumors of Palmer’s abrupt death have been exaggerated. He’s never been overly mobile, but he can still sense and escape a rush, and he still has high-end arm strength and excels while throwing the deep ball.

That arm is a pretty big deal for Floyd’s 2013 breakout potential, especially when it’s combined with Arians’ vertical tendencies. Seeing four or more wide receivers lined up is common, as are completions that stretch the sideline and work well past the markers.

Arians will call the plays this year in Arizona, and this past season when he held that role in Indianapolis (in addition to being the interim head coach with Chuck Pagano out), the chunky yardage came often.

Andrew Luck attempted 647 passes (fifth most in league), and 65 of them went for 20 yards or more (10 percent of his overall completions, and he was second only to Brees in 20 yarders). Reggie Wayne was used all over the formation, including in the slot. He was targeted a career high 195 times, which led to 1,355 receiving yards, a year after he finished with only 960. In the primary chunky yardage stat, it was only the third time in his 12-year career that Wayne had at least 20 receptions of 20 yards or more (22).

What’s even more encouraging for Floyd is how much the vertical fun is spread around in an Arians offense. Last year rookie slot receiver T.Y. Hilton had five 100-yard games while being targeted 90 times, and as the No. 2 receiver Donnie Avery was still targeted 124 times despite the high volume of balls in Wayne’s direction. He turned that into 781 yards and 60 catches.

In total then, the top three receivers tasked with running those deep or intermediate routes which put continual stress on secondaries were targeted a combined 409 times, which was 63 percent of Luck’s overall attempts. As we discussed last week while dissecting the eternal struggle between Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin, sheer target volume is always a top driver of production, and Floyd’s targets could balloon further with the uncertainty of Arizona’s running game, and their backfield currently led by Rashard Mendenahall.

Even with Fitzgerald on the other side going through his swift rejuvenation under Arians, the opportunities for Floyd will be available in abundance, enough so that he could quickly become a fine asset to plug in as your third wide receiver, or at the very least he’ll be a nice option as a matchup play. That’s a fine ceiling for a wideout who will be available in the 12th round, and beyond.