Measuring Golden Tate's fantasy impact

Measuring Golden Tate's fantasy impact

The Lions have struggled to gain any traction out of their No. 2 receiver spot for a number of years. Titus Young is out of the league. Ryan Broyles can't stay healthy. Nate Burleson was inconsistently adequate. Enter Golden Tate. What will his impact be when playing opposite of Calvin Johnson?

Golden Tate will attempt to fill a position in Detroit that has vexed the team in recent memory: the No. 2 receiver spot. But can Tate's fantasy value increase on a new team, in a new system and lined up across from the greatest receiver of his generation?

Golden Tate's ADP is 92.26, putting him exactly in the middle of the eighth round of 12-team league's draft. Selecting studs after the fifth round can separate you from your competitors and wins championships. So, is Tate that eighth-round hero who outperforms his ADP? What other options are available in that round? Worse yet, will he find himself on your league's waiver wire by Week 5?

Shrewd fantasy owners know how to look deeper and draft smarter in the later rounds, basically finding the best player available and getting him in the last round possible. While hobbyists occasionally stumble onto fantasy gold; consistently prepared fantasy owners rarely do this by chance. When it's time to look at some mid-round prospects and determine whether they belong on your roster, they take everything into account: a player's history, stats, and his offensive system. Let's do that now.

The History

If you're like me, you remember former Lions general manager Matt Millen desperately trying to find that No. 1 receiver. First-round picks such as Charles Rodgers and Mike Williams failed to live up to their draft position (in Rodgers case, any draft position). In 2007, they finally got it right with Calvin Johnson going second overall, but by then all of those earlier wasted picks had taken their toll and their defense was terrible, ultimately sending Millen back to the analyst's chair a year later.

Over the next several years, Detroit righted the ship defensively to an extent, and found a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford. The running back position is more than adequately manned by Reggie Bush and the surprising Joique Bell. Eric Ebron is expected to be the future at tight end or if he gets his way, a "hybrid" offensive weapon, but what about that second wide receiver position?

For the last several years, finding the man to line up opposite Johnson has proven difficult. Consider Titus Young, the surly second-round pick from Boise State who was everyone's (mine at least) fantasy sleeper headed into 2012, a season he failed to finish due to behavior problems.

Ryan Broyles joined the team a year later, also picked in the second round, but an astounding two ACL tears and a torn Achilles' tendon in three years has left him struggling to take the field, let alone cement his name on a starting roster spot.

Veteran Nate Burleson departed this offseason to help the depleted Cleveland Browns receiving corps after four solid yet unspectacular seasons in Detroit. Playing in all 16 games just once during his tenure.

Golden Tate now enters the mix as the presumptive No. 2 receiver. Like Burleson, Tate joins the the franchise after four years in Seattle. The key differences between the two is age, size and hands. Burleson (32) had already been in the league for seven seasons before joining the Lions and now figures to be in the back end of his career, Tate (25) wrapped up his rookie contract last season and is now entering his prime. Burleson is a fantasy afterthought, hoping to just cling to a roster spot, while Tate finally has an opportunity to blossom for fantasy owners after steady improvements to begin his career.



Click to enlarge.

This is a recent draft board from a Scout Fantasy Draft.
Tate was the ninth pick of the seventh round.


The Stats

Heading into the 2014 season, all of Golden Tate's statistics are trending up. Over his first four years in the league, Tate's receptions (21, 35, 45 and 64) and yardage (227, 382, 688 and 898) increase each season. If it weren't for a slight decrease in touchdowns last year -- down to five from seven the previous year -- we could add those to the list as well.

Tate's 5-foot-10 frame puts him on the shorter side of the average NFL receiver. Usually that means the wideout is burner, ready to take the top off of a defense, but Tate is more quick than fast (4.42 40) and doesn't exhibit elite speed. What separates Tate are his great hands, strength (he's currently listed at 202 pounds, thicker for a shorter guy) and his route-running. He's physically built like a running back, so it's no surprise that he can do some damage after the catch. This is something Tate did really well in college during his days at Notre Dame and it remains true today. As soon as he comes down with the football, he is looking to turn and get up-field. His size does limit his touchdown potential since he isn't the prototypical fade route into the corner of the end zone type of receiver. He will have to earn the majority of his points via receptions and yardage.

The System

There is no receiver in football less likely to see a double team than Golden Tate and he knows it.

"I think if I can stay healthy ... it's going to be fun," Tate told ESPN's First Take via MLive.com. "I have a chance to catch a ton more balls. I'm going to see a lot of single coverage. I'm probably going to see a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks because everyone's going to be on No. 81".

This puts him in a unique position to succeed. Johnson will still get the bulk of the targets -- he had 156 in just 14 games last year -- but there are plenty to go around. Over the last three seasons, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an average of 675 passes a season, that's an amazing 42 passes per game. If you're worried that a new system will see Stafford throwing the ball less, consider this: the only quarterback over that stretch to have pass attempts nearing those lofty totals was Drew Brees (659 attempts per year), and Brees' QB coach since 2009, Joe Lombardi, now runs the offense in Detroit. Lombardi's work with Brees coupled with his passing philosophy should have fantasy owners of any of Detroit's offensive playmakers feeling comfortable with the regime change.

Talented rookie Ebron looks to get in on some of Tate's targets, but rookie tight ends typically have a steep learning curve. Ebron will get his shot; however, it's Brandon Pettigrew who will lose looks to Ebron.

Running backs Bush and Bell pose the biggest threat to eat up opportunities -- 149 targets combined last season --- and they will also be utilized on a lot of short routes and check-downs. Perhaps the offense will shift towards Tate and his No. 2 WR positions after so many underwhelming contributions over the years. Bush and Bell's numbers are lofty and will be difficult to replicate, especially if either back misses time. It seems likely that the Detroit backs had so many targets over the years specifically because the No. 2 receivers couldn't get open or stay healthy.

The Conclusion

In Round 8 you may have all of your starting positions filled except for kicker and defense. As a potential flex option or an excellent off-the-bench receiver, Tate is an intriguing pick with room for statistical growth. If Tate remains on your board around pick No. 90, you should consider him. If he is undrafted entering Round 9, he becomes a safer and more valuable choice. He has the chance to contribute 80 receptions and maybe hit 1000 yards. Not too bad for your WR3 or flex. Even if he fails to hit those numbers, his style of play as a possession receiver who can consistently move the chains makes him a high floor guy who can be safely started any week while remaining matchup-proof. Most of the other receivers going in this range are either well past their prime (Reggie Wayne or Marques Colston) or second-year, risky receivers who did very little last season (Tavon Austin or DeAndre Hopkins). Tate offers an interesting combination of both veteran experience and some upside because of his new digs in Seattle.

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