Fresh off of a Super Bowl victory, Golden Tate signed a five-year, $31 million dollar deal with the Detroit Lions on the second day of free agency in hopes of fulfilling the teams search to find a Robin for their Batman. Or maybe it’s a Starscream for their Megatron? The Tsavo Man-Eaters would work, but I’m not entirely sure it will catch on. Either way, Detroit was desperately looking for a capable body to take the field opposite of Calvin Johnson to go along with space eaters Reggie Bush and Joique Bell out of the backfield.
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As I hinted, the Detroit receiving corps outside of Johnson was just downright horrendous in 2013. Here’s how Tate’s 2013 stacks up against the meh of the Motor City.
QB REC PTS
While Tate wasn’t exactly the reincarnation of Jerry Rice, he still had 67 percent of the receptions and 78 percent of the yardage of all of the other Detroit receivers combined and had one more touchdown. His target multiplier was completely even in a passing game with little to no volume, but the Lions would love just average production if they could get it. The fact that he did play for an efficient quarterback and he was just an average target among the Seattle crew that was missing Percy Harvin does leave a bit of a question mark for his own true ability.
Durham had the ninth worst target multiplier in the entire NFL out of all players with at least 50 targets and generated under half of the amount of fantasy points for Matt Stafford than Tate did for Russell Wilson on 121 fewer snaps in route. Fun with extrapolation says that if Tate was as good as he was in Seattle with Durham’s volume; his final line would’ve looked like 81/1,136/6 on 126 targets. That would’ve put him right around WR15, which is pretty scary. Now that’s just for giggles, but 100 plus targets should be in the bag barring the Lions add another big playmaker, so a 70/1,000/6 season is achievable.
Do you know how many wide receivers have increased their fantasy production in standard, half point reception and PPR scoring every season since 2010?
Part of that list being so short is he’s taken smaller steps and while it may not be on the scale of heavy-handed improvement as Decker and Thomas, Tate also wasn’t afforded the luxury of playing with the best statistical quarterback possibly of all time. No, instead Tate increased every year by playing with the team that threw the second fewest passes in the entire league over that same run he was getting better for fantasy purposes. The team he’s headed to, well they’ve thrown the most passes over the past three years. Former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan may have left town for Dallas, but don’t expect Detroit to shift into a ball control offense anytime soon.
Fewest Pass Plays Since 2011
It’s easy to forget four years removed, but Tate was an absolute dynamo in college while at Notre Dame. He played in a pass first offense that featured future NFL pass catchers Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph during their first two college seasons and had the immortal Jimmy Clausen as his quarterback. Tate was the fourth receiver and the 60th overall selection in the 2010 draft after posting elite college production.
Brake Pumping at Ford Field
Admittedly, the information above is pretty flattering, and I’m fan of what the signing brings on both a real and fantasy level, but let’s throw a little water on this campfire and acknowledge a few shortcomings before we anoint him a must have commodity this summer.
The first thing is that Detroit may not be finished adding to their offense yet, so assuming his final role in March is premature. The Lions may use draft equity to bring in another option to either the tight end or receiver position. In fact, they should just based on what’s in house already. If nothing happens in May, then we will know that Tate has a true WR2 cap.
Tate isn’t tiny but he also doesn’t sport the frame that coincides with being able to carry a passing game, which was evident by the way Seattle managed games. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he is a versatile player who can make plays after the catch and is valuable in the return game as a punt returner.
He’s not good, but also not terrible in the red zone, converting ten of 41 career targets for scores and five of 20 inside the ten yard line. That is under par but not among the worst. That is telling that while he is in fact a good play maker, he still needs those splash plays created by his after the catch ability to tie his production down.
While the increase in passing volume will help him overall, he’ll also never be a guy weighted by a heavy reception total. This shows up because Seattle may have had low passing volume, but it’s not like Tate was out there creating volume with his play either. That’s slightly a chicken and egg scenario, but he’s not built to carry a passing game and I don’t think anyone would dispute that. In 58 career regular season games, Tate has had more than five receptions in only four. Many of those were as a primary target for his offense. He is a player who can be eliminated by the opposition if necessary, but the fact that he should find frequent accommodating coverage in his new home doesn’t really make that an issue.
Stafford was pedestrian this past year in games without Calvin Johnson on the field. In the two games without Megatron, he went 47 for 73 for 483 yards and two scores combined. In the other 14 weeks, Stafford finished as a top 12 quarterback ten times. While Tate is a better player than those he is replacing, he and Stafford’s fantasy football value will still be directly tied to Johnson’s availability week to week.
With Bush and Bell catching passes as well, Tate does smell like a player that will have better final stats than the weekly story will tell and his inconsistency could be tough to trust weekly. My total opinion is that his arrival aids Johnson into further dominance, but Johnson will open enough doors for Tate to make a real impact in scoring overall, just in random spurts. This won’t be a Julio Jones and Roddy White type of marriage.
This leads me back to something that I always try to echo in these halls: chasing cumulative numbers can be self-destruction. Tate will undoubtedly finish 2014 as a top 24 overall receiver if he remains healthy. He was WR28 last season in standard scoring and WR30 in PPR. Do you know how many weeks he performed as a top 24 receiver? Four.
He may have finished the season as a high end WR3, but at no point was he strong option to trust in your lineup. His statistical ceiling in 2014 is in the ballpark of Anquan Boldin in 2013 and his median numbers probably won’t be far away from that of Brian Hartline, who is consistently treated like fantasy garbage and can be picked up as your WR5. Hartline was WR26 last season and also only had four weeks of top 24 production. While I agree that a player like Hartline is undervalued, I still feel good about myself if my weekly opponent has him penciled in his lineup. That’s the area of fantasy where I see Tate landing in. The sum of the parts won’t match the vehicle that is on the showroom floor after week 17 but he will have big impact weeks tearing apart favorable coverage that etch themselves in your mind.
The sticking point as always will be decided by price point. I normally don’t chase smaller receivers, and I certainly don’t chase them at an inflated ADP. While it’s hard to say just where that ADP will end up when the smoke clears, Tate will have to be treated as a lower WR3 for me to take a chance on him in hopes of him hitting a mid to low WR2 ceiling in a best case scenario.
With the natural allure of the Detroit passing game and his own strong efficiency stats on low volume, it’s highly likely someone will always value him more than I do in drafts. While this is a signing I like for real and fake football and Tate has a moderately high ceiling that I crave when drafting in the middle rounds, the market may force you into paying a tax for his services. What Detroit does over the rest of this offseason will be the key to evaluating his summertime value.
*Stats were provided from ProFootballReference.com and ProFootballFocus.com