For reasons I don’t understand, no one has written this article yet. In fact, I’m honestly ashamed that it took me until after the Hall of Fame game to get this piece in the RotoViz archives. Ladarius Green is probably my favorite player in all of fantasy football, the player that I own the most and feel most comfortable about his inevitable breakout. In fact, I wrote about Green last year in the preseason . . . for redraft leagues. After posting one of the most unique seasons in football history, the fantasy football world needs to priming itself for his fantasy stardom.
Last season, Green played only 370 regular season snaps, averaged 22 yards per reception, and scored three times on only 17 catches and 30 targets, while Antonio Gates scored four touchdowns on 114 targets. You don’t need to be a stats guy to understand that Green is simply the better player at this point in their career. He is an absolute athletic freak, standing 6’6”, 240 lbs. with a 4.5 40, he is quite honestly a faster version of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski and looks every bit of it on the field. It is true that the Chargers hate touchdowns almost more than any other organization in football, choosing to play Vincent Brown over 900 snaps while he was putting together one of the worst seasons in modern football history with .91 yards per route run (which was sixth-worst in the league) and only contributing one TD. With any good sense, the team will remove Brown from slot duties and place Green there, but that uncertainty is why you can get him so cheaply at the moment.
Except it’s not really that uncertain. Outside of Keenan Allen, Gates, and Green, the team’s options for pass catchers are an oft-injured Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown, Seyi Ajirotutu, and Eddie Royal. Green is going to play regardless of whether or not Gates breaks down, that much I am pretty sure of. He upped his playing time 50 snaps to Gates’ 40 in the Chargers’ wild card game and 30 to Gates’ 47 in the divisional round versus the Broncos. I think Green’s snaps in the postseason indicate what the coaching staff would like to see out of him in 2014, essentially functioning as the third or second option in the passing game depending on Gates’ health and productivity. Regardless, Green is the Chargers TE that you want to own.
Reports around the Chargers camp are that Green has “taken the next leap in his development” and that beat writers basically expect him to double his production from last season while getting first team reps. These are the sorts of new blurbs that you want to be hearing on Green, even if they aren’t exactly true. With developmental athletes like Green (or Julius Thomas last season) you want almost all of the news to be encouraging if you are planning on investing heavily in them. None of the “still struggling to memorize the playbook” type news. The hesitancy on taking an athletic marvel like Green and making him a key cog in your fantasy football strategy is this idea that, well, he can’t really play football. I think all of the indications from the Chargers organization are that they are counting on Green pretty heavily. They didn’t invest in any pass catchers in the draft, nor make any splashes in free agency.
For what it’s worth, Green creates some pretty interesting comps with his high scoring, low volume 2013 season. There are plenty of TEs in recent memory who have scored a lot of TDs, not recorded a lot of yards, and fading into obscurity. There are others who have done so early in their careers and had great success later on. Basically all of the contextual factors (good quarterback, good coaching system, easy division, little competition for targets) are going in Green’s favor in a way they never were for the Marcedes Lewises of the fantasy football world. The TE Sim Score App gives Green some very favorable comps (Gronk’s 2011 for example) as well as some not so great ones (Lewis’ in every season after the 11-TD season), so an exercise I like to do when looking at sort of unique players like Green is to run a PFR query. This particular search was set to generate a list of TEs who weighed more than 238 pounds, had less than 20 catches, and three or more TDs in any of their first three seasons in the league.
That is a comp list you want to show up on. Anthony McCoy was never really anything at the NFL level but Vernon Davis is a verified superstar (especially if the 49ers would use him more), Martellus Bennett is a consensus top 12 TE and Joseph Fauria, at worst, is a red zone monster and a dynasty commodity. Even Tony Scheffler has been useful at times in fantasy, despite the fact that his hands are made of Tatooine carbonite. In fact, Scheffler’s role in the Lions offense the past three seasons is probably Green’s floor this season. With Gates and Green expected to both be on the field at the same time plenty, even if Gates gets the lions share of targets, Green will undoubtedly score more fantasy points as he averaged over 1.9 fantasy points per target last season, while Gates hovered around less than one fantasy point per target.
I understand the hesitance to move on from Gates as a stable and reliable fantasy commodity, in fact our own Matt Rittle has written about the exact concept and it isn’t that I think he’s wrong, but I certainly do think differently. There is roughly between a 0 and 0 percent chance that Gates wins you your league. At his peak, he was a league-winning pick, but he just isn’t that player anymore. His age has caught up to him, as has a debilitating case of plantar fasciitis. He’s a fine pick if you want to launch into TE streaming, but only Green and Jordan Reed have true league-winning capabilities. Green is going in the 10th or later in most leagues, so even if he is only a bit player that you can’t rely upon for week-to-week production, he is easily cuttable for a TE streaming option in a way that Reed isn’t. Therefore, other than Gronkowski, Green becomes the second-most desirable TE in all of fantasy football. Use the uncertainty surrounding Green’s playing time and the group think mentality of your opposition to acquire a season-changing player on the cheap.