Ladarius Green's Breakout Is Coming, But We May Have to Wait for It
For a player who caught only 17 passes last season, there's a lot of electricity surrounding San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green. This comes from the Chargers general manager, Tom Telesco, who wants to speed up the offense this year, and it's also coming from fantasy football owners, who saw his big-play potential in limited bursts last season.
Infusing some more lighting into the Chargers offense bodes well for Green, whose 4.53-second 40-yard dash in 2012 is still the fifth-fastest time for a tight end in the past five years.
With Green's athleticism and Antonio Gates' inevitable, eventual decline, Green's breakout is coming (just like winter), but there are plenty of reasons why we may have to wait another season or two to see it (...just like winter).
Small Sample Stud
Football articles on numberFire rely on Net Expected Points (NEP), which is a metric we use to gauge a player's impact on the field over the course of a season. Based on highly-contextualized game situations, the number works to show how much a player added or subtracted from his team's likelihood to score points on a given play. It helps weed out garbage production and identifies actual impact on the games.
Green, who reached the end zone on 3 of his 17 catches a season ago, posted some fantastic NEP marks in 2013. You'd have to go back to 2004 and consider wide receivers to find a player who added more points to his team in 17 catches or fewer than Green did.
Green did more with his receptions than every receiver and tight end over the past nine years, and all but one since the 2000 season. If you want to rid of the receivers and focus solely on tight ends, Mark Campbell's Reception NEP of 24.25 in 2004 would be second-place to Green's 2013 season, where his Reception NEP was 31.94.
Green's Target NEP - which looks at all targets, not just receptions - is pretty exceptional as well when compared to the rest of the 17-or-fewer reception club, indicating that he made good on the times Philip Rivers threw his way.
Green surely wasn't force-fed in the offense; his 29 targets ranked just seventh on the Chargers, and he was targeted 85 fewer times than Gates, who led the Chargers in targets (114).
However, since 2000, 259 tight ends have received between 20 and 40 targets, roughly 10 more than or fewer than Green's tally (29). Green's Reception NEP (31.94) ranks seventh among them, and his Target NEP (22.26) ranks fifth - placing him in the top 3% of the subset.
If his numbers among his historical peer groups are any indication, Green is on pace to be elite, but he may have to wait for his breakout surge.
The Depth Chart Runs Deep
Like I mentioned previously, Green ranked seventh on the Chargers in targets, and he also ranked seventh in receptions behind Gates, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, and Ryan Mathews.
This year, Donald Brown joins the backfield. Brown caught 27 passes with the Indianapolis Colts last season, but the more significant addition is the comeback of Malcom Floyd, who is ready to return this year after a serious neck injury last season.
Floyd has been plagued with injuries throughout his career, but when he managed to play at least 11 games between 2008 and 2012, he averaged 41.6 receptions on 69.0 targets to go along with 4.2 touchdowns per year. To the detriment of Green's ceiling, Floyd posted monstrous Reception NEP per target numbers in this span, indicating that Floyd was very successful with his targets, turning them into big plays or touchdowns. Of all receivers with at least 30 receptions, Floyd finished inside the top 12 in each season in Reception NEP per target between 2009 and 2012, including a second-place tally in 2011.
This is great news for the Chargers, who are able to roll out a deep group of receiving talent, but it's less good for potential fantasy owners who like the upside in Green.
Green's Fantasy Impact
Green may have all the potential in the world, but limited opportunity can trump potential in the short-term for fantasy purposes. That doesn't seem to worry early drafters, who are counting on Green as a borderline starting option at the tight end position.
He's currently being drafted as the 12th tight end off the board (108th overall), per MyFantasyLeague.com. That's eight spots ahead of Gates, the 20th tight end, and nearly 50 picks overall, as Gates is going off the board at pick 154.
The anticipation is understandable though. Even though Green finished as just the 29th highest-scoring tight end, his per-reception numbers were great.
This chart shows the top-10 fantasy points per reception leaders who were inside the top-30 in tight end scoring this year.
|Player||Receptions||Fantasy Points||Fantasy Points Per Reception|
Green, like the earlier comparisons of Reception NEP and Target NEP, ranks very high. He obviously benefited from limited receptions, but his ability to put fantasy points on the board is evident when given the chance.
But how big will his chances will be? Wow involved will Green will be in the passing attack? Just how much the speed will increase for the Chargers, whose 1.19 pass-to-run ratio was 26th in the league last year? So, until we get a better indication of the Chargers offensive game plan later on in the off-season, expectations should be tempered for Green.
A larger role in the offense could bring about truly elite numbers for Green, especially if Rivers can continue being a well above-average quarterback. But with Gates still lingering and a sturdy group of receivers and pass-catching backs in San Diego, Green's big break might still be a few years away.