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Cardinals Rookie Michael Wilson Has A Fan In Larry Fitzgerald

First-year wide receiver is making impact early in career

On the season, rookie wideout Michael Wilson is averaging 16.9 yards per reception.
On the season, rookie wideout Michael Wilson is averaging 16.9 yards per reception.

Larry Fitzgerald has only briefly talked to Michael Wilson, when the Cardinals legend visited the joint practices with the Vikings in Minnesota in August and met the rookie wide receiver.

But that short interaction – and watching Wilson from afar – has left an indelible impression on the future Hall of Famer.

"Michael is what I hope and pray my Devin can be," Fitzgerald said, mentioning his teenage son. "Go get the very best education in the world at Stanford, be in class with world-class thinkers daily, and excel on the field and do it with grace, class, and humility."

The words mean a lot to Wilson, who is hoping to have a longer conversation with Fitzgerald at some point. But they also underscore why Wilson was so highly thought of by the Cardinals and why they thought he would be a steal as a late third-round pick.

Wilson is coming off the best game in his brief career, with seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns against an excellent 49ers defense. He has 14 catches on the season for 237 yards, a robust 16.9-yard average.

And, despite losing the vast majority of his college career to injury, Wilson thinks the career slow play forced upon him is a reason he has been successful so quickly.

"There is definitely a difference coming into the league at (age) 23 as opposed to 21," Wilson said. "When you come in at 21, it's easier to play more years in the league and it's more sexy for teams that are drafting you because you are young – not that 23 is old – but I think there is an advantage to coming in at 23.

"Thinking back to myself at 21, I'm a lot more emotionally mature now, I'm a lot stronger, and I can deal with stress better. I have been through a lot of adversity in my life. Considering me coming in (to the league) later than I anticipated, it's paying off."

Wilson makes the first of his two touchdown catches in San Francisco.
Wilson makes the first of his two touchdown catches in San Francisco.

It's a difference from Fitzgerald, who didn't turn 21 until he had gone through almost his entire first training camp with the Cardinals. When the two talked, Fitzgerald told Wilson that if he could talk to his rookie self, he'd tell young Fitz not to rely so much on his physical gifts and focus on the intricacies of route running and using technique to get open.

Those eventually came for Fitzgerald in his historic career. Wilson is getting to them now.

"When he got here in the offseason after the draft it was like, 'Wow, this guy can process a lot, handle a lot very quickly,'" offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said. "He was playing multiple positions … (and) from our standpoint that can happen very quickly – 'I can trust this guy.'"

Wilson has already been a standout as a blocker in the run game, frequently doing so on the front side of plays. When quarterback Joshua Dobbs has targeted Wilson in the passing game, he's completed 14-of-16 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

"I was impressed when I got here," Dobbs said. "I turned on the film and was just getting up to speed on the personnel just watching OTA reps, camp reps and the preseason games and he jumped off the film like, 'Hey, who's this?' I thought it was a second-, third-year player in watching the film and I know that's the rookie receiver Mike. That was really impressive. It was different once you get in the stadium, now you have longer game plans and more studying to do and stuff like that, but he's owned it."

Wilson was trained throughout college by former NFL receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh – "There is no part of my game that hasn't been influenced by his coaching and teaching" – and he has an idea of some impressive recent Cardinals wide receivers.

He knows Anquan Boldin was a standout, and Boldin was amazing as a rookie in Arizona, with 101 receptions and 1,377 yards. He references Christian Kirk and John Brown, who both made immediate impacts with the Cardinals.

But Fitzgerald, not surprisingly, is at the top of his list. Fitzgerald has quickly noticed Wilson too.

"I watched him numerous times at Stanford and always thought that with size and speed, it would transition to the league well," Fitzgerald said. "I saw that in training camp, and he's a sponge from what I heard. When you are all-Academic four years in a row at Stanford you know picking up a playbook would be simple.

"He's shown toughness catching balls and has precision route running as a young player, which is impressive. You can tell Dobbs trusts him."

Hearing Fitzgerald's compliments puts a smile on Wilson's face. Wilson isn't established yet on the NFL level, not after four games, but he's got the confidence that he's headed that way. It doesn't hurt to have Fitzgerald hoping his son can follow in your path.

"That's awesome to hear that," Wilson said. "I'm going to tell my parents."


The Cardinals added former Chiefs running back Damien Williams to the practice squad on Thursday, where he joins Corey Clement. With Keaontay Ingram dealing with a neck injury, the Cardinals only have two healthy running backs on the active roster: James Conner and rookie Emari Demercado.

Williams has been in the league since 2014. He rushed for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in Kansas City's 2019 Super Bowl win.

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