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Larry Fitzgerald: Best wide receiver ever?

Even when his larynx is producing sounds and his lips are moving to form those sounds into words and his left temporal lobe is stringing those words together to create whole sentences, Bill Belichick rarely actually says anything. 

And that's why, on the rare occasions in which the cliché-dispensing New England Patriots head coach breaks from the status quo and offers something of substance, we listen.

Belichick is allergic to hyperbole and melodrama. Yet on Thursday, when discussing Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Belichick gave us a rare morsel of substance.

"He's a great, great receiver, will go down as one of the all-time greats and might end up being the best ever — I don't know," Belichick said, via FoxSports.com. "He has size, quickness, ability to separate and gets open, exceptional hands. He's good short, deep, with the ball in his hands after the catch; strong, very smart, sets up his routes well."

Now, Belichick could be inflating Fitzgerald's greatness because he's facing him and the Cards this week, but still, "best ever"? And I love how he added an "I don't know" for the sake of Belichickian nonchalance.

Football historians will tell you that it's impossible to compare eras, especially when it comes to skill players on offense. So Belichick probably isn't considering the statistics here and is referring to what he sees on tape. Still, it would be quite the feat if Fitzgerald were to complete his career with people believing that he's better than dudes like Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

If we are looking squarely at the numbers, only two receivers in NFL history have averaged more yards per game than Fitzgerald. Both those two players — Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson — are active. Johnson and Johnson have averaged 79.5 and 77.7 yards per game, respectively, followed by Fitzgerald at 77.4 and Rice at 75.6. 

But Rice averaged 0.69 touchdowns per game. Fitzgerald is in his prime and only at 0.58. It will be very difficult for the 29-year-old to catch 125 more touchdown passes in order to surpass Rice before his career is done.

Of course, there are so many other factors at play. Fitzgerald might never put up Rice/Moss/Owens numbers, but he drew the short straw in terms of supporting cast. Since coming into the league in 2004, Fitzgerald has been forced to work with nine different starting quarterbacks, including scrubs like Josh McCown, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. 

During Fitzgerald's eight years in Arizona, the average annual rank of the running game has been 29th. Can you name me three quality complementary receivers he's had? His defenses have never been good, nor have his offensive lines. He was just drafted in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

And yeah, we assess player legacies based on their team accomplishments, too, which isn't totally fair, but that will hurt Fitz when it's all said and done — unless the Cards turn it around quickly in the upcoming years. I get it to a degree with quarterbacks, but it's hard to blame Fitzgerald for the fact the Cardinals have been a joke more often than not.

Ultimately, the best way to assess Fitzgerald's greatness might be to just close your eyes and imagine him on the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning, or on the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees, or on the Patriots with Brady and Belichick. 

Picture that and you can begin to see where Belichick's coming from.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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