Why I’m Driving the Golden Tate Bandwagon

Calvin Johnson’s abrupt retirement has left a major void in the Lions’ offense. The potential future Hall of Famer dominated the NFL while handling WR1 duties in Detroit over his nine-year career. Megatron’s departure essentially leaves a quarter of the targets up for grabs in Detroit.

Calvin Johnson’s Career Target Shares

Year Games Targets Targets Per Game Target Share Per Game Played
2015 16 150 9.4 23.60%
2014 13 128 9.8 26.40%
2013 14 155 11.1 27.80%
2012 16 204 12.8 27.60%
2011 16 160 10 23.70%
2010 16 137 8.6 21.60%
2009 14 137 9.8 25.80%
2008 16 151 9.4 29.70%
2007 15 95 6.3 16.90%

Most believed the Lions would mitigate the loss of Johnson by bringing in WRs via free agency and the draft. Somewhat surprisingly, the Lions did not draft a single WR. Instead, they chose to address the position through free agency by signing Marvin Jones.

Marvin Jones’ Career Target Shares

Year Games Targets Targets Per Game Target Share Per Game Played
2015 16 103 6.4 20.40%
2014 0 0 0 0.00%
2013 16 80 5 13.60%
2012 11 32 2.9 8.70%

Jones target share per game played of 20.4 percent in 2015 was the highest of his career. Calvin Johnson received a higher target share on a per game basis every year except his rookie season. Jones is a good WR, but at this point in his career, he’s not even close to the caliber of player that Calvin Johnson consistently was. Jones has never been a No. 1. He’s not only adjusting to a new role, but also to a new team and new city as well.

A quick look at the rest of Detroit’s WR depth chart shows they won’t be closing that target gap that Calvin Johnson has left behind.

Total Targets for Lions’ WRs Not Named Tate or Jones

Player 2015 Total Targets
Corey Fuller 9
Jeremy Kerley 26
TJ Jones 18
Andre Caldwell 22
Corey Washington 0

With little to work with behind Tate and Jones, it’s not surprising the Lions are reportedly turning Theo Riddick into a WR to keep him on the field as much as possible. Riddick already received 99 targets last year, so I’m skeptical how much the position change will increase his number of targets. There naturally will be adjustments Riddick has to make as a WR that should hinder his ceiling. I’ll still be targeting Riddick in drafts, but he isn’t the Lion I’d most like to own in 2016.

Golden Tate’s Detroit Lions Career Target Shares

Year Games Targets Targets Per Game Target Share Per Game Played
2015 16 129 8.1 20.40%
2014 16 142 8.9 23.50%

Although he was the clear No. 2 while playing alongside Johnson, the target share numbers for Johnson and Tate were closer than I had expected. The rapport Tate has built with Stafford over the past two years should put him first in line for targets in 2016.

Tate already provided a glimpse of his potential as the Lions’ No. 1 WR when Calvin Johnson missed three games back in 2014.

Golden Tate’s 2014 Weeks 6-8 Target Shares Without Megatron

Week Targets Target Share Catches Receiving Yards TDs
6 12 36.40% 7 44 0
7 13 32.50% 10 154 1
8 15 31.90% 7 151 1

Three games is an extremely small sample size. You shouldn’t draft Tate expecting those numbers every week. However, perhaps more importantly, Tate finished 2014 as the WR12 in PPR even with Calvin Johnson playing in thirteen of those games.

After a career year in 2014, Tate’s numbers were down in 2015. But Tate’s 2015 campaign was rejuvenated after Jim Bob Cooter took over as the Lions’ Offensive Coordinator in Week 8.

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Nine games is another relatively small sample size. However, as Chris Raybon pointed out in his Key Fantasy-Relevant Tendencies of Each NFL Offensive Coordinator article, Golden Tate’s target share in the red zone increased from 12 to 30 percent with Cooter calling the plays. In fact, Tate ended up increasing his TD total from 4 in 2014, to 6 last year. Tate caught 5 of his 6 with Cooter calling plays. Yes, you read that correctly. Tate caught more TD passes in his nine weeks with Cooter than he did during the entirety of his WR12 PPR finish in 2014.

Tate’s inevitable 2016 boost in targets and target share will also be aided by the Lions’ high volume passing attack. The Lions attempted the fourth most passes in the NFL last season. All of those pass attempts helped Tate place in the top 20 targeted WRs, while playing alongside Megatron, who finished higher on the list. And while the Lions will likely run the ball more without Calvin Johnson, they finished 2015 ranked dead last in team rushing yards and tied for 30th in team rushing attempts. So even if there’s some correction, there will be plenty of opportunities for Tate in 2016, which is great since targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring.

Golden Tate is hashtag good at football. The combination of Tate’s 2014 and 2015 samples do a good job of illustrating his high PPR seasonal floor as well as his weekly potential upside. After knocking on the 100+ catch door the past two seasons, catching 99 and 90 balls respectively, expect him to take advantage of his increased volume by turning it into a 100+ catch 2016 season. While Marvin Jones will be a more volatile player on a weekly basis, you’ll be able to count on Tate in your lineup week in and week out. Not only will Tate be consistent, but he will also have the potential of going off in any given week.  Look for Stafford to target Tate deeper down field in 2016, as Joey Cartolano’s average depth of target findings would seem to suggest. If Cooter keeps feeding him targets in the redzone, the sky’s the limit for Golden Tate in 2016.

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