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Seeing Stars: Grading the Arizona Cardinals’ WR situation

The Arizona Cardinals won 11 games in 2014, and if not for an incredible amount of injuries very well could have had an even more successful season.

Look around, though, and you’ll see varied opinions on how they will fare in 2015. Some view them as a contender, a team that will compete for a Super Bowl if it can have a little luck in the health department. Others believe last year was a bit of a fluke, that they are destined to take a step back.

As training camp nears, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the team on a position-by-position basis, grading each group on a five-star scale.

So, how does the team look?

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Jaron Brown, Brittan Golden, J.J. Nelson, Jaxon Shipley, Ryan Spadola, Trevor Harman, Damond Powell

Grade: 4 stars

This is easily the most talented group on the offensive side of the ball, even if last year’s numbers look rather pedestrian. Like, could you find much success with the revolving door of quarterbacks? Didn’t think so.

While Fitzgerald is still the face of the franchise, Floyd and Brown each have the skill set to emerge as the top option in the passing game, with some predicting they’ll do just that.

It’s a good “problem” to have, too many excellent options.

We’ll start with Fitzgerald. He will be 32 when the season begins, and is coming off one of the least-productive campaigns of his career. The question is, were his down numbers a product of his skills declining, the bad situation at QB, his role in the offense, injuries? How about all of it. There’s little arguing Fitzgerald is no longer the player he was in his best years, when he was one of the most feared wideouts in the entire league. However, he showed he still has the ability to make big plays last season — specifically in a Week 8 victory over Philadelphia — and appeared to be rounding into form before Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Besides, he did lead the team in first down receptions, which means if nothing else he is a good security blanket. The QB’s return as well as better health should see Fitz be a more impactful player in 2015, even if his numbers don’t jump off the page.

Then there’s Floyd, who led the Cardinals with 841 yards and six touchdown catches last season, but was for the most part a disappointment. That’s what happens when you are expected to make the leap from a good No. 2 receiver to a team’s No. 1, only to fall short. That being said, Floyd is just 25 years old and at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds looks every bit the top option. He was mostly used on deep routes last season, as would be evidenced by his team-best 17.9 yards per catch, and if that continues then his numbers are likely to fluctuate from game to game. Consistency in his game will be key, and if he can find it then the level it was hoped he would reach last season may become the one he sits at this year.

Of course, you can’t forget about Brown. Last year’s offseason hero, the Pittsburg State product went on to be every bit as good as advertised during the regular season. He finished second on the team in receptions with 48 and trailed only Floyd in receiving touchdowns with five, and showed a knack for coming up with big plays. However, he clearly faded down the stretch, and has admitted his body just wasn’t able to handle the pounding of an NFL season. He has added weight without losing his speed or quickness, which bodes well for the Cardinals and poorly for their opponents.

After the main three, Jaron Brown is the most likely to make an impact in the passing game. The former undrafted free agent out of Clemson has worked his way up the depth chart in two season with the team, finishing 2014 with 22 catches, 229 yards and two touchdowns. His drop in the end zone in Seattle was costly, but he’s otherwise shown to have very sure hands. Big more than fast, he’s someone the Cardinals can rely on if there is an injury to one of the top three wideouts.

After him, there is a lot of speed and question marks. Nelson, a rookie, is likely to see more playing time on special teams than offense. Golden has great speed but has yet to prove himself as an NFL receiver. Shipley may emerge as a slot receiver if he can first make the roster as a special teamer, while the others — including Bruce Arians’ nephew, Trevor Harman — are solid practice squad candidates.