Draft Review: Larry Fitzgerald

The NFL's third all-time leading receiver

GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Larry Fitzgerald spent his first year out of high school at a prep school, then went to Pitt. He played only two seasons there but, because he was three years out of high school, he was eligible to apply for the NFL draft after only his sophomore season. There was no reason to return to the college game. Fitzgerald started both of his seasons at Pitt and won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football in 2003. He led the NCAA in receiving that season with 92 catches or 1,642 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also set an NCAA record by catching a TD pass in 18 consecutive games and broke another record for catches by a sophomore (held by Randy Moss). Fitzgerald then measured a shade under 6-3 at the NFL combine, running a 4.47 40 at 225 pounds. Gosselin surveyed 23 NFL teams the week of the 2004 draft and 15 of them rated Roy Williams of Texas the best wide receiver on the board. The other eight picked Fitzgerald. Gosselin rated Fitzgerald as the second-best wideout in the 2004 draft behind Williams and pegged him No. 5 on his Top 100 board. The Arizona Cardinals selected Fitzgerald with the third overall choice. Then Arizona coach Dennis Green previously had been the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, where Fitzgerald had served as a ball boy in training camp.

Here are comments on Fitzgerald from 11 talent evaluators leading up to his 2001 NFL draft:

Scout: Not as physical as his size would indicate. When he catches inside routes and slants he gets tackled. Doesn’t fight for extra yards or break tackles. Can’t separate from press (coverage) because he lacks quickness.

Scout II: The whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. The bottom line is he’s better than the breakdown of his speed, route-running and versus press. He must have the strongest hands in the world because he makes catches where he shouldn’t make them. Just has that knack.

Receivers coach: Problem with bumps. No sense of urgency. I was disappointed in his tape. My #4 receiver.

Receivers coach II: The complete wide receiver. He catches everything in the neighborhood. But how much better can he get? Very strong and football smart. But he’s limited by his speed and quickness. Similar to Anquan Boldin.

Receivers coach III: #1 wide receiver. Has a unique ability to make plays in traffic and that goes a long way in this league.

Personnel director: Great routes, great concentration, great body control. He’ll bump (defender) and turn his body just before the ball gets there.

Personnel director II: Can’t get away from anyone (defenders). Media darling.

Personnel director III: Great hands and a nice feel for the game with a nice change of speeds.

Offensive coordinator: A faster Cris Carter. Catches everything.

Head coach: #1 receiver in draft. He’s similar to Michael Irvin in terms of his football mentality. Big, strong, tough and will block downfield but could be more physical. More complete a wide receiver than Roy Williams, just not as flashy.

General manager: Great player. He’ll run in the mid 4.5s.

HALL OF FAME RESUME: Only one wide receiver in NFL history caught more career passes than Fitzgerald – Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Fitzgerald has 1,432 receptions for 17,492 yards and 121 touchdowns. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was named to both the 2010 all-decade team and the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. He led the NFL in receiving twice and also won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2016 for his contributions on and off the field. In 2008, when Fitzgerald reached his only Super Bowl, he set NFL records for receptions (30) and yards (546) in a post-season. He caught seven passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort against Pittsburgh in that Super Bowl. Fitzgerald has played 17 seasons before retiring in 2021. He won’t have to wait long for his bust when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin resurrected his college scouting reports here for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed the top draft prospects coming out of college. 

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