If you've been an Arizona Cardinals fan for any length of time, you're well aware of the Larry Fitzgerald versus Anquan Boldin debate. Before the Cardinals' magical post season run this past season, the "who is better" or "who is more valuable" debate was quite a hotly contested argument. Now the Fitz vs. Q debate might not rival Ginger vs. Mary Ann or Monica vs. Rachel but both players have quite a few bullet points on their respective resume's.
Assuming that Fitzgerald cemented himself as the Cardinals' top receiver after his record setting post season, I started to wonder how each player stacked up other great wide receivers of NFL past. To give some background quickly, I started with the all-time receptions leader board and then narrowed the field down to guys who had tremendous success in thier first five seasons. One thing that stood out fairly quickly though is just how rare it is for receivers to be successful in their first five seasons. In fact out of the top 10 leaders in receptions (although we'll ignore Tony Gonzalez who is 9th), five of them didn't record a 1,000 yard season or a 100 catch season until their fifth season in the NFL or later. Guys like Chris Carter (3rd), Tim Brown (4th), Andre Reed (tied-6th), Art Monk (8th) and Keenan McCardell (10th) combined to record just three 1,000 yard seasons during their first five seasons and only one 100 catch season. For comparison purposes, Fitzgerald and Boldin have combined for six and four, respectively. Not bad, but how do they stack up against other recievers who assimilated to the NFL very quickly....
We'd be remiss if we didn't start by listing Fitz's and Q's stats for their first five seasons:
Fitzgerald has obviously had an amazing first five seasons in the NFL and he's the first receiver in league history to post three 1,400 yard seasons before his 26th birthday. He's also topped 100 receiving yards in a game 24 times (roughly 32% of his games). Here's a quick look at Boldin's first five seasons:
Boldin has been equally impressive with three 1,000 yard seasons and two seasons with more than 100 receptions. The only real difference in Boldin and Fitzgerald's production seems to be the number of games that Boldin has missed due to injuries.
Ok, now that we've set the bar, so to speak, let's take a look at some other great receivers who got off to very quick starts. First our list should be no surprise, as any talk of wide receivers has to start with Jerry Rice:
Wow, Jerry Rice didn't disappoint. Although he didn't top Fitz or Q in terms of receptions, his yardage total and number of TD's are mind-blowing. One other interesting bullet point on Rice's resume is after five seasons, he'd already collected four Pro Bowls and four All-Pros. To give you and idea of what Fitz and Q are up against if they want to keep Rice with arm's reach, he averaged over 1,400 yards and over twelve TDs for his next seven seasons.
To get to our second receiver, we had to drop down to Torry Holt (11th on the career receptions list) because guys like Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens had decent starts to their career but they didn't quite meet the criteria.
Holt's numbers are eerily similar to Fitzgerald and Boldin, with the only real difference coming in yards per reception, but that difference did lead to Holt having the most yards in our sample set. Just for the record though after his first three seasons, Holt's yards per catch settled in around the upper 13's. Holt earned three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team during his first five seasons and he should end this season inside the all-time top 10 in receptions and yards.
Our last 'measuring stick' will be, arguably, the best first five seasons for any receiver in NFL history. Randy Moss started his career with six straight 1,000 yard seasons (only one in NFL history) and he recorded double digit touchdowns in six of his first seven seasons.
Needless to say, Moss was once on track to give Jerry Rice a run at being considered the greatest of all time but being sent to Oakland in the prime of career derailed that thought. Even with two poor seasons though the 31 year old should finish his career ranking second in just about every receiving category.
That's quite bit of information to digest at once but it's pretty amazing the kind of company that Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald find themselves in after only five seasons. If only Kurt Warner was about to turn 28 instead of 38, but if Fitz and Q can manage to stay together for any extended period of time, we should see some fantastic career stats for years to come. How would rank these five and how high on the career lists can Fitzgerald and Boldin get? And to make it easy on the eyes, here's the totals line for all five guys.....