Will Golden Tate Work in Detroit?
Calvin Johnson has had a lot of things in his career with the Detroit Lions. He's had a competent quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a passable offensive line, and now, in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, a talented backfield duo.
One thing the talented Mr. Johnson has never had, however, is a true number two receiver to take some heat off his tail. You could legitimately triple team Megatron every play and hardly face any negative ramifications - Jeremy Ross is going to make any defensive coordinators drop to their knees and pray to the clipboard gods.
Golden Tate changes that. And, oh, mama, does he make things interesting in the Motor City.
No Help? No Problem
Johnson entered the league in 2007. In those seven years, he's posted three of the top-six seasons (based on Total Net Expected Points) for a wide receiver. Pretty good, right?
Overall, there have been 1,338 wide receivers that have recorded at least one target in those seven seasons. Johnson's worst year was his rookie year, which ranks as the 232nd-best. Again, that's his worst year, and it happened seven years ago.
Where have other Detroit receivers ranked? Uh, well, um, it's not pretty. Only once has a Lions wideout not named Calvin Johnson finished with a better Total NEP than Johnson had his rookie year. That was Shaun McDonald in 2007, who started a grand total of three games, and had zero touchdown receptions after that season.
If you want to find the next-best season, you have to head all the way down to 297th on the list. That was Nate Burleson in 2011. The only other Lion in the top 300 was Roy Williams at 299 in 2007. In other words, Johnson has been a one-man wrecking crew that has been making Stafford look good despite a supporting cast of glorified donkey dung.
Not Just an Appetizer
Prior to the Super Bowl, Cris Carter said that Seattle's receivers were just "appetizers." No way, Kimosabe. As our JJ Zachariason wrote last month, the Super Bowl champs actually had three receivers rank among the top 32 in Reception NEP per target last year. Tate was one of them.
Reception NEP per target is a measure of efficiency, looking at the number of points a wide receiver adds on receptions only and dividing it by volume. In 2013, 110 players had at least 35 targets. Tate clocked in at 30th among those players with a 0.76 per target Reception NEP average. This isn't front-of-the-line production from Tate, but it's certainly solid.
For some perspective, Johnson finished ninth in the league with a 0.92 Reception NEP per target average. The next highest Lion was Burleson; he finished 82nd with a 0.58 score. In fact, the Lions had three of the 29 lowest totals among wide receivers with at least 35 targets, as Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham landed 86th and 95th overall. Holy upgrade, Batman.
If you prefer aggregate stats, Tate finished 29th in the league in Total Net Expected Points (which factors in rushing metrics), sandwiched between Julian Edelman and Victor Cruz. His 76.84 Total NEP was higher than any Lions receiver has had other than Johnson during Megatron's time in the league.
The biggest question here is whether this move will help or hurt Tate himself. Sure, Johnson is going to attract more attention from a defense than Doug Baldwin, but he's also going to get more targets. In fact, Johnson had 42 more targets (156) than Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined (114) a season ago.
Another thing Tate will have going for him, though, is getting away from such a run-oriented team. In 2013, Seattle had the second lowest pass-to-run ratio in the entire league at 0.91. Detroit was 14th in the category at 1.48. That'll go a long way towards canceling out the negative effect of Johnson receiving all of the targets that he does. This is, of course, assuming that the Lions stick with their high-flying philosophy under Jim Caldwell.
While I would assume that Johnson's output should remain about the same (it'd be hard for it go up even if they added Josh Gordon across from him), I wouldn't say the same about Stafford. Dude should be slobbering right about now.
In his five years as the Lions' signal-caller, Stafford has finished in the top 10 in Total NEP (again, rushing is factored in here) among quarterbacks only once. That was back in 2011 when he finished fourth. He should make a push to get back there this year.
Although it looks like the team may be losing Brandon Pettigrew to free agency, Bush, Bell and Joseph Fauria (scintillating dance moves and all) will be back for 2014. Add Golden Tate into the equation, and that's a whole boatload of options.
With Tate, Stafford will have a viable second option when there are six defensive backs and several ball boys draped over Johnson. This signing can also allow the Lions to address other needs during the draft - they don't need to target a wide receiver in the first or second.
Overall, this seems like a positive for both Tate and the Lions. Tate has an offense that's more inclined to toss the pigskin, an elite receiver to take some heat off of him, and Stafford no longer has to force himself to feed the rock to Kris Durham. And there's still that Megatron guy. I guess he's pretty good, too.