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Andy Behrens

Spin Doctors: Larry Fitzgerald vs. Sidney Rice (seriously)

Andy Behrens
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More Spin Doctors: Chris Johnson vs. Adrian PetersonAaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees

You should know the rules by now: Two Yahoo! fantasy analysts debate the merits of a pair of players, then readers settle the issue via Web poll. Today we're discussing Larry Fitzgerald(notes) (prohibitive favorite) and Sidney Rice(notes) (plucky underdog). Please give the lecturers your full attention, and ignore the fact that Pianowski shamelessly used around 100 extra words. After casting your vote, sign-up for some free Fantasy Football.

Pianowski says: Everyone knows the fundamental rules in rock-paper-scissors, and it's time we discussed some fundamental rules when it comes to projecting fantasy football players. Opportunity trumps protection at the receiver position, and receiving talent usually emerges even with a messy supporting cast.

The Kurt Warner(notes) departure is a major hit for Fitzgerald, but he's produced without Warner before. Fitzgerald's haul in his rookie year (58-780-8, a monster showing for a first-year receiver) came despite dreadful play at the quarterback position, and Fitzgerald gave us strong numbers in 2006 despite limited time with Warner. Heck, Fitzgerald scored 22 times in his final year at Pittsburgh, working with Rod Rutherford – anyone heard from Rutherford lately?

Matt Leinart's(notes) career to this point makes everyone nervous, but at least he's getting eight months to ready for what might be his final shot in the NFL. We're still talking about a Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pedigree here. Yes, his mechanics need to be ripped up and rebuilt, and no, he didn't learn a thing about pocket awareness during his time at USC. But the Leinart we see this fall, with months of preparation and a few years of added maturity, should trump the Leinart we watched in the early part of his career. I'm not trying to sell you on Matt Leinart, star; merely that he's in a position to be improved in 2010. That's all we want.

I'm not worried about the loss of Anquan Boldin(notes); when it comes to star receivers, opportunity comes before protection. If it were so easy to take a No. 1 receiver out of the game, explain how Andre Johnson(notes) and Brandon Marshall(notes) thrived last year, or what Terrell Owens(notes) did in several seasons without adequate help. When the talent is top shelf, there's only so much a defense can do in response. Heck, if there were an easy way to scheme against Fitzgerald, defenses would have done it during Arizona's playoff run back in January 2009.

I'm a Sidney Rice fan, as most of us are. He's an athletic freak and in a good spot if Brett Favre(notes) comes back. But would you bet your house that Favre actually returns and stays at full-throttle in 2010? And can we be sure that Rice's targets and red-zone looks will stay at the same level given what's around him? Percy Harvin(notes), Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) and Adrian Peterson demand the ball too, and once in a while they throw the rock to Bernard Berrian(notes).

Rice has one year of fantasy stardom under his belt; Fitzgerald has several. Rice is one weapon in the Minnesota offense; Fitzgerald is the Arizona game plan. I'll go where the opportunity is, and let the talent take care of itself.

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Behrens responds: I'm fully aware that Rice won't win the battle at the polls in June, but I'm equally confident that he'll prevail in January, when all the fantasy points are totaled.

(See how I moved the goal posts there? That's a veteran Spin Doctors maneuver.)

Rice is coming off a 1312-yard breakout campaign that was punctuated by a dominant post-season (10-184-4). He's 6-foot-4, hyperathletic, and he catches absolutely everything thrown his way. (Check the tape. Hated that play at the time, but I respect it). The key pieces of Minnesota's offense are still in place — c'mon, there's basically zero uncertainty about Brett Favre — and you'll recall that the Vikes were pretty good in 2009. They averaged 29.4 points and 379.6 total yards per game. Rice is in line for another massive statistical season.

Of course Fitzgerald never seems to have anything less than a massive season. He's spectacular, a Hall of Fame talent. If we were building a real-life team from scratch here — which is definitely not what we're doing — Fitzgerald would be the first receiver off the board, no doubt.

So why is he just 10th in my wide receiver ranks?

Because I have no faith in his quarterback, that's why — and neither do any of the Yahoo! experts. Matt Leinart isn't higher than No. 21 in anyone's QB ranks. I've actually participated in mocks where Fitzgerald is taken in the first round and Leinart goes undrafted. That makes little sense.

As supremely talented as Fitzgerald is, his fantasy value is still to some extent tied to his quarterback … and his quarterback is no longer Kurt Warner. Over the past three years, Leinart has thrown three TD passes and eight interceptions. The offense immediately downshifts when he's at the controls. He's been indecisive, slow, and entirely unimpressive. And if he fails, Derek Anderson(notes) is next on the depth chart (reckless, inaccurate, equally unimpressive).

It's a testament to my confidence in Fitzgerald that I've still placed him inside my top 10. With Rice, I have no remaining questions about the talent or the situation. You can have Fitz in the first; I'll take Rice in Round 3.


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