Larry Fitzgerald had an interesting quote last week. Bruce Arians was asked about the matchup between the Lions Calvin Johnson and the Cardinals Patrick Peterson and he responded that it was the matchup between the best corner and best receiver in the league. Fitzgerald, in response, said,
Calvin’s the best,” he said. “I mean, look at his numbers. It is what it is.
Those are big words. Is Megatron really the best? It is really hard to tell. Just to start, both are different types of receivers. Calvin Johnson is a big, fast, all-around dangerous threat. Larry Fitzgerald may not have the same speed but he still finds a way to get open and is great with his hands. By virtue of longevity, Fitzgerald is the leader in stats. Last year, though, Johnson broke the single-season record in receiving yardage for a receiver. Both of them are very talented receivers and deserve the accolades they have been given thus far. However, the measure of a good receiver is much more than the stats they pile up.
Since the 2010 season, when quarterback Kurt Warner retired, Fitzgerald has 3,346 yards for 18 touchdowns. In the same time period, Johnson has 4,765 yards for 33 touchdowns. But, in that time period, the Cardinals have been through six different starting quarterbacks. None of them have matched the talent and play-making ability that Matthew Stafford, the Lions quarterback since 2009, brings to the table. Despite this revolving door at starting quarterback, Fitzgerald still managed to rack up over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns a year.
Also, Fitzgerald is not the only receiving threat on the roster. To be sure, he is the only consistent playmaker but Early Doucet, Steve Breaston, and Michael Floyd have all vied to steal catches and attention away from Fitzgerald. In Detroit, Johnson was the only serious threat, as was evidenced last year by Stafford’s continued dedication to throw to Johnson. Nate Burlson has not lived up to his billing as a solid no.2 option. Titus Young was talented but troubled and was not around long enough to steal enough catches away from Johnson.
Since Kurt Warner left, the balls don’t have the same type of delivery that Fitzgerald is used to. But, with Carson Palmer, the Cardinals have at least found a veteran who knows to throw it to the team’s best offensive player. If they can finally field an offensive line that can keep Palmer upright, Fitzgerald might start to make some headway on Johnson.
In my opinion, and despite all of the evidence I have presented, I believe that Johnson is indeed the better receiver. He fills every role you would want out of a receiver. He can play in the slot, at the X or Y spot, and is a redzone or deep threat. Fitzgerald certainly is talented and, on most other teams, might actually have better stats than Johnson. But, Megatron is just too talented not to pick over Fitzgerald.