Is Ladarius Green Poised for a Breakout in 2015?

Is the main tight end gig in San Diego Ladarius Green's for the taking, or should we temper our expectations?

I’ve selected a few different ringtones in my life, but by far the best I’ve ever used is Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got The World On A String”. With its blaring brass section and soaring string vamp in the intro, there is almost no better way to make sure you wake up. Then Frankie’s soothing croon soars in and reminds you that -- overcast day or not -- everything around you is incredible and the world is gorgeous.

Ladarius Green and those with him on their fantasy teams should be humming along with Ol’ Blue Eyes these days. Veteran Chargers tight end and Green’s teammate, Antonio Gates, publicly stated that he’s asked for the Chargers to cut his snaps down this coming season, in order to keep himself healthy for a long career. This should finally provide ample playing time for the young Green to get the opportunities in the passing game he will need to be a potential fantasy option.

But has Green refined his route running and catching abilities yet? Has he learned to block better, which is integral to the Chargers’ offense? Green has made a career thus far off of unrealized potential, but 2015 might be the year we finally get to test that upside.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me

Our first step in figuring out the value that Green may walk into is to assess the situation he’ll be presented with. We need to know how good the situation for tight ends on the Chargers is: how many opportunities for touches there are, and how much production the tight end position there has recently accumulated. To do this, we’ll look at both traditional stats and a metric we like to call Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP takes the numbers we get in the box score and assigns them contextual value as they relate to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value and other on-field variables, we get to see just how much each play individually and each player on the whole influence the outcome of the game. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

So how much have tight ends in San Diego’s offense produced over the past few years? The table below shows the average production over the past five seasons for the lead tight end and secondary tight end roles, both in terms of receiving yardage, touchdowns, and targets, and Reception and Target NEP.

RoleTargetRec YdsRec TDRec NEPRec NEP/PTarget NEP

The opportunity presented to the lead tight end in the San Diego offense over the past five years is pretty immense. With just a shade under 90 targets per season, this role has been prolific to the tune of 750 or more yards a year and an average of eight touchdowns. Not too shabby. The value holds up under NEP scrutiny, as well. A Reception NEP of 75.39 is a very solid score, and this isn’t some hollow, touchdown-fed amount. The 44.56 Target NEP shows that there is a certain security to the high production given to that position.

That said, Antonio Gates has been the lead tight end in San Diego for the past decade or so. Of course, a future Hall of Famer will have put up impressive and sure numbers in his time. No one stepping into that kind of opportunity will be able to put up the kind of production Gates did, though they might prove capable substitutes.

The secondary tight end has been almost exactly one-third as valuable as the lead in San Diego over the past half-decade, in every category. There is a clear split in value between the tight end roles here, at least at their current distribution. Still, if we slice the total value (118 targets, 996 yards, and 10 touchdowns) in different proportions, the "what could be" production is pretty enticing for Green owners.

Currently at a 75/25 split, even 60/40 would increase the value of the secondary role. This would give it a line of 47 targets, 400 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Those 64 standard fantasy points would have ranked in the top-20 of tight ends last season. New wideout Stevie Johnson should take over most of free agent departure Eddie Royal’s targets, but if he doesn’t, the possession tight end role in the San Diego offense does have room to grow even larger.

Tall, Tan, Young, and Lovely

There’s at least room for Green to step forward this season and finally show some of the playmaking ability we’ve hoped he could muster years ago. But does he have the chops to seize it? We know he hasn’t produced much to this point, but perhaps his rates and peripheral metrics can offer us some clearer picture of his potential.

The table below displays Green’s rate and peripheral stats by year, in terms of Target NEP (receiving reliability, in a sense), Reception NEP on a per-target basis, Reception Success Rate (the percentage of plays the player is involved in resulting in positive NEP), and Catch Rate.

YearTarget NEPRec NEP/PSuccess RateCatch Rate

Green took a major step forward in 2013 from his rookie year, advancing both in raw Target NEP and Reception NEP on a per-target basis. His Catch Rate significantly dipped, but being that he only saw four targets in 2012, that was to be expected. His Success Rate went up to an average or so 88.24%. In 2014, however, he not only had a few targets scaled back, he also was less reliable in Target NEP and Reception NEP on a per-target basis. His Success Rate took a step backwards as well, but he became a much more reliable receiver by Catch Rate.

My Funny Valentine

What can be gleaned from this? Green is still a major work-in-progress. His career so far has been a complete mixed bag. Reduced volume was certainly a factor in his Target NEP dropping, but his value rates (Success Rate and per-target Reception NEP) dropped off hard as well. And yet, his hands showed significant improvement, based on his Catch Rate. If given more opportunity, there’s no guarantee that he’d be a lock for a drastic uptick in production, but it sure couldn’t hurt his fantasy value.

The situation is ripe for advancement, however. Just a small reduction in snaps for Gates would put Green back on the fantasy radar. If Gates’ role was reduced to an even committee, the average 500 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns for the second tight end role would have ranked 15th among tight ends last season, and Green would be a viable bye week option.

Don’t count on Ladarius Green booming onto the scene this year, as Antonio Gates will still be a major factor in San Diego for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, progress is progress.