Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Those are just a few of the high-profile quarterback-wide receiver combinations we've seen around the National Football League over the last few decades. Those players weren't only productive between the white lines, but their success was also a godsend in the world of fantasy football. Imagine owning Young and Rice back in 1995, when those San Francisco treats hooked up for 122 catches, 1,848 yards and 15 touchdowns?
Unfortunately, fantasy leaguers lost one dynamic duo at the end of last season when Kurt Warner decided to retire. Warner had been the arm behind more than his share of solid offensive combinations. While in St. Louis, he was paired up with Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in what was known as "The Greatest Show on Turf". In Arizona, he helped Larry Fitzgerald become one of the elite wide receivers in fantasy football. Now that Warner has rode off into the sunset, owners are literally jumping ship on Fitzgerald.
I'm hear to tell you that if Fitzgerald falls to you in the second or third round, you should jump all over him.
Sure, the thought of Derek Anderson throwing him the football isn't as attractive as the Warner machine slinging it to him. If Warner is Megan Fox, well, Anderson and Matt Leinart are the celebrity equivalent of the Sklar brothers.
But since when does an elite wideout need a good quarterback to produce?
As I like to do when we discuss such topics for the purpose of fantasy research, I took a look at the past to see what I found that might help fantasy owners worried about Fitzgerald's future statistical prospects. In an effort to put your minds at ease, here's a lengthy list of wideouts who've put up monster numbers without the help of a superstar quarterback.
Calvin Johnson, Lions (2008):Megatron put up huge numbers in Motown in his second NFL season, catching 78 passes for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those statistics made him one of the best wideouts in fantasy football, and he did it with the combination of Jon Kitna, an over-the-hill Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky under center.
Braylon Edwards, Browns (2007): In his third season at the NFL level, Edwards broke out to produce 80 receptions, 1,289 yards and an amazing 16 touchdowns. Who was his quarterback that season, do you ask? Well, it was Anderson - the same quarterback who could be throwing the football to Fitzgerald this season. A tad ironic, isn't it?
Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers (2004): Did you know that Muhammad was the best fantasy wideout in 2004? He posted 93 catches for 1,405 yards and found the end zone an incredible 16 times. All of that success came with Jake Delhomme at quarterback. You know, the same Delhomme who's turned into a virtual turnover machine in recent seasons.
David Boston, Cardinals (2001): I remember when Boston was considered one of the best wideouts in the league, and his 98 catches for 1,598 yards and eight scores in 2001 proved it. Of course, he hit those lofty numbers with the turnover-prone Jake Plummer under center. Oh, and Boston was never the receiver Fitzgerald has become.
Marty Booker, Bears (2001): Booker, a one-time fantasy sleeper, caught 100 passes for 1,071 yards with eight touchdowns and was a PPR monster for fantasy owners in 2001. He was able to put up those totals with the combination of Jim Miller and Shane Matthews under center. Neither one of that duo is exactly Sid Luckman, either.
Derrick Alexander, Chiefs (2000): A one-time star for the Michigan Wolverines, Alexander had his best fantasy season in 2000 with 78 catches, 1,391 yards and 10 touchdowns. Would you be disappointed if Fitzgerald posted those numbers? Well, Alexander was able to reach those totals with the mediocre Elvis Grbac at the helm.
Germane Crowell, Lions (1999): Crowell was a major talent for the Lions, but injuries kept him from reaching his true potential. In the one season that he did stay on the field, Crowell posted 81 catches for 1,338 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who was catching footballs from Charlie Batch and Gus Frerotte.
Marcus Robinson, Bears (1999): Like Crowell, Robinson's career was overshadowed due to his proneness to injuries. He did have one solid season, though, posting 84 catches for 1,400 yards with nine touchdowns in 1999. He put up those impressive numbers with the trio of Miller, Matthews and Cade McNown throwing him the old pigskin.
Rob Moore, Cardinals (1997): Moore, a talented wideout from Syracuse, had his best fantasy season in 1997 with 97 receptions, 1,584 yards and eight touchdowns for a Cardinals team that went 4-12. His starting quarterbacks that season consisted of Plummer, Kent Graham and Stoney Case. Not exactly, Warner, Young and Dan Marino, is it?
Herman Moore, Lions (1995): Want even more Moore? Enter Herman, who went off for 123 receptions, 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1995. That is one heck of a final stat line. His quarterback that year was Scott Mitchell. OK, so Mitchell did have what was a career season, but overall he was a major disappointment at the NFL level.
Carl Pickens, Bengals (1995): For a three-season stretch in the 1990s, Pickens was one of the better wideouts in fantasy football. His best statistical year came in 1995, when he recorded 99 catches, 1,234 yards and a career-high 17 touchdowns. Those totals came with Jeff Blake under center - he had two solid season his entire career.
Terance Mathis, Falcons (1994): I can remember back to the days when Mathis was one of those underrated wideouts you could grab on draft day and get great value in return. His best season came in 1994, when he hauled in 111 passes for 1,342 yards and 11 touchdowns. His quarterback that season was the now infamous Jeff George.
Andre Rison, Falcons (1993): There was a "Bad Moon Rison" in 1993, as the veteran wideout went off for 86 catches, 1,242 yards and 15 touchdowns. You'd take those totals from Fitzgerald in a heartbeat, right? Well, Rison put up those huge numbers with the combination of Bobby Hebert, Billy Joe Tolliver and Chris Miller at the helm.
Mark Carrier, Buccaneers (1989): Did you know that Carrier is the Bucs' franchise leader in receiving yards? His best season from a fantasy perspective came in 1989, when he recorded 86 catches for 1,422 yards and scored nine touchdowns. His quarterback that season was Vinny Testaverde - he had more interceptions (22) than scores (20).
Mike Quick, Eagles (1983): His last name said it all - Quick was ultra-fast and a major weapon for the Eagles in the 1980s. He had his best year in 1983, posting 1,409 yards and 13 touchdowns with Ron Jaworski under center. Jaws was a good quarterback, not certainly not a great one. He actually threw 18 interceptions that season.
Based on these 15 examples (and believe me, there are countless more throughout the history of the NFL), it's pretty obvious that Fitzgerald isn't doomed to failure this season. I mean, if he can survive the dreaded Madden curse, there's no reason to believe he can't post 90 catches, 1,200-plus yards and 10 touchdowns with Anderson under center! Actually, I think the fact that Anderson seems to be the favorite to start over Leinart is a positive. He throws a better deep ball and apparently has the confidence of his teammates, at least more so than Leinart.
So before you get scared off and pass on a Warner-less Fitzgerald, keep in mind that far less talented wideouts (and a lot of them) with mediocre quarterbacks have found a high level of statistical success in the past.