Fantasy Football: Is It Time to Worry About Golden Tate?

After two subpar performances, is it evident that Tate's role is limiting his production?

After two weeks of the 2016 NFL season, it seems apparent to Golden Tate owners that Matthew Stafford is not dancing with one who brought him.

While preseason rumors were consistently warning us that Stafford and free agent addition Marvin Jones were developing a strong chemistry during training camp, it still seemed likely that Tate was a strong bet to be the quarterback's top target.

The incumbent receiver was funneled targets last season in Calvin Johnson's absence, leading the team in red zone targets and averaging 8 receptions for 116 yards and 0.67 touchdowns.

But through three games, the effectiveness of the Detroit Lions' top-billed receivers couldn't be starker in terms of Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target.

PlayerTargetsReceptionsYardsTouchdownsReception NEP per Target
Golden Tate1695400.08
Marvin Jones211220300.68

The discrepancy between the two was evident in Week 1, but after Sunday's 2-catch performance from Tate (only 13 yards despite 9 targets), we are left to wonder what the heck is going on in Detroit and whether or not Tate is even worth starting in any type of league format.

Tale of the Tape

A thorough breakdown of Week 1 demonstrated what the metrics insinuated: Tate was an effective target in the short area of the field but failed to break tackles and didn't earn the downfield targets that might have improved his yardage total (41 yards). Instead, it was Jones who worked down the sideline and the intermediate/deep areas of the field, showing outstanding body control and an obvious chemistry with Stafford.

In Week 2, the Lions seemed interested in diversifying Tate's role, targeting him often deep down the sideline, but the quarterback and receiver just always seemed to be a step or two away from connecting.

Tate's Week 1 Reception NEP per target of 0.14 was abysmal, and through two games, it stands at 0.08. Last year, the league-average rate for receivers was 0.67. Catching all of his targets in Week 1 helped him salvage an inefficient performance, especially in a PPR league, but in Week 2, he just couldn't make the difficult catches downfield.

And while Tate did see an end zone target on Sunday, he is being overshadowed in that department by the unexpectedly healthy Eric Ebron, the newly signed Anquan Boldin, and the presence of an emerging goal-line back in rookie Dwayne Washington.

Both Ebron and Boldin are also cutting into the short and intermediate targets Tate thrived on in 2015, and it is clear that Stafford has a much more effective stable of weapons than last year. Remember, Lance Moore was the best remaining receiver alongside Tate when Calvin missed time due to injuries.

Through two games, Boldin has 10 targets and Ebron has 12.

All of these factors have the arrow pointing down when it comes to Tate's season-long projections, but is there hope in sight?

The Prognosis

Yes, the target volume Tate is seeing is a reason for optimism, and he remains on pace for a 128-target season. For those still clinging to hope, I guess this is where you can hang your hat. But beyond that, it is hard to write an ending to this story where Tate is consistently valuable in any league format beyond PPR. And even then, his upside appears capped.

If the Lions continue to to use Tate as a tunnel-screen and short-crossing route receiver, he may struggle to produce the yardage and touchdowns needed to make him a productive fantasy asset. This is especially true with Boldin and Ebron eating into that role as well as producing more effectively in the red zone. Through two games, Tate has two red zone targets, while Jones, Ebron, and Boldin have a combined seven.

Jones is already the more effective player along the sidelines and down the field, and every factor just seems to be limiting the Lions' need for Tate to be anything more than a valuable piece to a multi-faceted passing game puzzle. When the team would lose Calvin Johnson for stretches in the past, Stafford had no choice but to lean heavily on Tate due to a lack of alternative options.

That simply isn't the case in 2016, which leaves little room for Tate to grow as a weapon in this offense.

Stafford may have gone to the dance with Tate, but it certainly looks as if he's ready to leave without him.