TEMPE, Ariz. – The cynical view is that the Cardinals wasted a first-round draft pick on wide receiver Michael Floyd. With how badly the Cards need help on their offensive line, and with how little Floyd has impacted the offense this season, why shop for luxury when you still have basic needs to fill?
But that view is also short-sighted and short on evidence, with only the first nine games of the season to support the claim. Floyd can’t do anything about those nine games — or the play of the offensive line — but he will have the opportunity to change perceptions over the final seven games of the season.
“Michael’s been playing well,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said Tuesday. “He’s going to be worked into our offense more. That’s deservedly so.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-round pick or a free agent. If you do well enough and you’ve earned the chance to play, then you’re going to play. That sends the right message for your team when that happens.”
Whisenhunt certainly isn’t unique among NFL coaches in his cautious approach to rookies. But he’s been unfailingly consistent in that approach. No matter a player’s past accolades, draft status or contract numbers, Whisenhunt doesn’t hand his trust to rookies without ample reason to justify that trust.
And despite Floyd’s lofty draft status (No. 13 overall), his career arc isn’t that unusual, especially when you consider the Cards have Pro-Bowler Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts playing at a high level this season as the receiver position.
“It all comes in due time,” said Floyd, who has 18 catches for 207 yards and a TD. “And it all starts in practice. You’ve got to make plays, because there’s a lot of opportunities that come your way.”
Floyd probably would have been mixed into the offense more as the season progressed anyway, but Early Doucet’s multi-drop game Sunday in Green Bay, coupled with the Cardinals’ five-game losing streak, might have hastened the process.
Whisenhunt hinted Monday that change was coming on a struggling team. Left tackle Nate Potter has already replaced D’Anthony Batiste, and quarterback Ryan Lindley could get his shot if the Cards can’t win in Atlanta and Kevin Kolb isn’t ready to return Nov. 25 against the Rams.
Now comes Floyd, who has been mastering the Z position. If he does replace Doucet, Roberts would have to slide into the slot. Roberts said he prefers playing outside because he gets to run more deep routes, but he also likes the slot because of the matchups against cornerbacks lower on opponents’ depth chart.
That means Floyd could finally get the chance to show why he was drafted – because the Cardinals believe his big body and ability to go up and get the ball would form a nice complement to Fitzgerald, who could certainly benefit from a little less attention from defenses.
“It’s their decision on the play calls and the playing time,” Floyd said of the coaching staff. “But once I get in there I have to do whatever I can to make sure I’m doing the right things on the field and helping my teammates.”
As for Floyd’s progression, Roberts offers a perfect case study in patience. Roberts wasn’t selected as high (third round), but he had what then-receivers coach John McNulty called the worst rookie training camp of any player he’d ever coached. Now the accomplished Roberts is offering advice to Floyd on how to overcome.
“He’s a rookie. You have to go through those rookie struggles,” Roberts said. “He’s starting to learn more and more, and you can see it from the first mini-camp till now. He’s going to be a playmaker for us.”
While the coaching staff might differ on some aspects of his game, Floyd doesn’t feel his play was lacking when the season began.
“I picked up on the speed of the game and the playbook real quick,” he said. “But there’s a lot of details, whether it’s run plays or pass plays where you have to be detail oriented. You can’t just be out there running routes. You actually have to try to be perfect on each and every single route.”
Time might prove the Cardinals unwise for neglecting their offensive line for so long in the draft, but nobody can see all ends. Floyd is making sure he’s taking care of his end, even it’s taking a little longer than his critics believe it should.
“I’m focused on myself. That’s all I can do,” he said. “You can’t listen to outsiders or the media because they really don’t know what goes on inside a team. They all have their predictions or opinions, but you can’t help that or change that. You just have to come in here and work, and that’s what I’m doing.” Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter