Remember this debate? Nine months after the NFL Draft in which they were taken at #5 and #13, respectively, Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd have taken different paths to once again find themselves in comparable situations. While Blackmon has been considered to have the better work ethic and can separate on his routes better while Floyd is more explosive, the original debate intensified because the receivers possessed many similar skills, namely good hands and the ability to stretch the field. To go from the intangible to the tangible, let’s take a look at the 2012 numbers for both players.
Justin Blackmon, WR JAX
Ultimately tied for #15 among all wide receivers with 134 targets in 2012 (along with Julio Jones), Blackmon started off as any first year receiver would be expected to begin his career – slowly. Through the first nine games of the season, Blackmon scored only one touchdown while averaging fewer than three receptions and 28 yards per game. Week eleven at Houston was when he seemingly turned a corner, scoring four touchdowns in the final seven weeks while averaging over six receptions and 100 yards receiving per game (though it should be noted that two outliers included seven reception, 236 yard and one reception, nine yard games).
For Blackmon, the trend in performance paralleled his trend in targets. Through the first nine games, the young receiver was targeted an average of 6.5 times per game. In the last seven games, his targets jumped to nearly 11 per game. These targets translated into 64 receptions (just under a 50% rate), 865 receiving yards, 13.5 yards per catch and five touchdowns. By the end of the year, he had averaged 11 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues (seven PPG in standard leagues), good enough to be #31 among wide receivers and a mid-WR3.
Beyond an increasing level of comfort and understanding of the offense that comes with experience, Blackmon’s improvement coincided with two significant changes to Jacksonville’s offense in week 11 – Laurent Robinson’s placement on IR prior to the game against Houston and the beginning of the Chad Henne era at the helm. The apple of Henne’s eye saw decreased competition for targets as Cecil Shorts missed two of the final seven games due to injury, and though Jordan Shipley caught on at the end of the season as well, he played a much different role in the offense. The status of this receiver corps and the quarterback position are still very much in limbo heading into 2013, which could spell trouble for Blackmon as he struggled when Gabbert and Robinson were starting.
Michael Floyd, WR ARI
Much further down on the target list at #50 was Floyd. Having plowed through four different starting quarterbacks in 2012, Arizona wasn’t in much of a position to provide fantasy value to, well, anyone. Larry Fitzgerald ended the season with 170 PPR fantasy points, even less than Blackmon. With a mess o fan offensive line, quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton each spent significant time on the sidelines due to injury and ineffectiveness. Floyd stood little chance to be relevant.
This is why, all things considered, Floyd’s season was not as desolate as the lack of recognition and statistics would make it appear. Targeted 86 times, his 45 receptions were at a more efficient rate than Blackmon’s (with the aforementioned issues at the quarterback position, to boot). Much like his rookie counterpart, Floyd also performed better in the second half of the season. Through seven games, only one touchdown supplemented one reception and 13 receiving yards per game (including two complete shutouts to start the season).
Starting in week eight, however, an increase in targets (2.5 per game to 6.5 in the final nine games) translated to 4.1 receptions and over 50 yards per game. The statistic that stands out the most is that he caught nearly two thirds of the passes thrown his direction after week seven, whereas Blackmon caught just 52% of his targets.
What does all this mean?
For dynasty owners looking to acquire a second-year receiver, Floyd will likely provide better value. While Blackmon’s 176 PPR fantasy points put Floyd’s 105 to shame in 2012, the Jaguar was recently drafted in a DLF mock #57 overall compared to the Cardinal at #90.
If Arizona addresses their offensive line issues through free agency and/or the draft (Eric Fisher or Chance Warmack are possibilities), allowing the quarterback to stay upright in Bruce Arians’ new vertical offense, Floyd could thrive opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Add to the equation that Floyd’s superior explosiveness and height (he is 6’3 versus Blackmon at 6’1) makes him a better red zone target and you’re looking at more upside in the latter rounds.
Rather than taking Blackmon in the fifth round, use that pick on a RB2 or WR2 and snatch up Floyd a few rounds later. With more consistent quarterback play, Floyd’s ceiling could be much higher. The debate here may not be about which player is better, it’s about which can provide you with better value.