With a Healthy Megatron, Can Fantasy Football Owners Trust Golden Tate This Year?

Tate put up monster numbers in Megatron's absence last year. What will they look like if Megatron remains on the field all season?

At one point, most people who pay attention to football thought Golden Tate’s career highlight would be the Hail Mary “catch” he made as a Seattle Seahawk against the Green Bay Packers in 2012. You know the catch. The one that M.D. Jennings actually caught. Right.

After the Fail Mary reception, Tate actually performed well in his formative years as a Seahawk, serving in tandem with Doug Baldwin as move-the-chains cogs in a less-than-electrifying passing offense.

But in 2014, with his new squad in Detroit, Tate really broke out. With teammate Calvin Johnson suffering from a high ankle sprain for a good portion of the first half of the season, Tate showed his chops as a capable number-one receiver. But with Megatron healthy again, can Tate continue putting up big numbers?

Tate By the Numbers

numberFire’s method for identifying on-field impact, Net Expected Points (NEP), quantifies a player’s effectiveness based on their performance above or below expectation. Each NFL play comes with an expected average output based on historical performance, current down, yardage-to-go, and a host of other variables. If a player secures a 15-yard catch on a 3rd-and-10, they’ve moved the chains and thus increased their team’s chances of scoring positively. Conversely, the same gain on 3rd-and-16 doesn't make the same impact.

These scenarios result in positive and negative NEP scores, respectively. Add up the total positive and negative NEP generated by a player’s efforts, and you get their total NEP, which is another way of saying the total number of points a player has contributed to his team’s point total. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.

SeasonTargetsReceptionsReception NEPRec NEP Per Target

Tate’s performance throughout the years cast him in a favorable light. After a couple of seasons getting his feet wet in 2010 and 2011, Tate’s per touch efficiency really improved to a 0.94 Reception NEP per target in 2012. To put that in perspective, there were 66 wide receivers that season who received at least 65 targets. Tate finished third among that group in per-target effectiveness. The league average in terms of Reception NEP per target consistently sits right around 0.67 year in and year out, which he far exceeded.

Tate exceeded the league average again in 2013. And again in 2014. All the while, Tate’s volume has increased, particularly when he moved on to become a Lion.

So Tate’s been pretty damn good the last three seasons. Can we expect the same in 2015 assuming Megatron stays healthy?

High Floor, High Upside

The splits between Tate’s raw output without Calvin and with him in the lineup are stark. Johnson was technically out of the lineup for three of Detroit’s 16 games last year, however, he was used only as a decoy in two of those weeks, so we’re looking at Tate’s output without Megatron from a lens of five games in which Johnson was ineffective or on the sidelines completely (Week 4 through Week 8).

Tate was able to put up big numbers during this five-game stretch. With an average of 120 yards per game, Tate was getting all the looks in the passing game, and doing a ton with it.

SplitTargets Per GameReceptions Per GameYards Per Game
With Megatron7.55.466.5
Without Megatron11.87.8119.8

Tate’s numbers with Megatron in the lineup, however, weren’t quite as impressive. But don’t take that as an indictment on Tate’s performance while serving as the Lions number-two receiver; dude was just that nasty when Calvin was healing up his bum ankle, and it really spoke to his upside. If Calvin Johnson gets hurt again in 2015, we now know what Tate is capable of producing; WR1 numbers in fantasy. And Calvin Johnson has missed at least one game in five out of his eight seasons in the league. While injuries might be unpredictable, it wouldn’t be exactly surprising if Tate got this kind of opportunity for a game or two in 2015 again.

But is he worth drafting in fantasy football as your number-two receiver assuming Megatron stays healthy? Most certainly. You see, Tate offers up a high floor of points to go with his upside in case Megatron gets hurt. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been under the impression that 1,000-plus yard receivers grow on trees, and Tate was likely to realize those numbers even if Megatron had played all 16 games at full health last season.

2014 Assuming Megatron All 16 Games86.41,0641.6
2015 numberFire Projections82.891,052.796.79

Playing the extrapolation game, Tate would’ve put together an impressive 86 receptions and 1,064 yards last season had Megatron remained in the lineup for the five games he missed or served as a decoy. And even though Tate’s projected touchdowns would’ve been low, we know that touchdowns can be a fluky phenomenon. In fact, numberFire projects Tate’s target, reception, and yardage numbers to look a lot like the numbers above, assuming Megatron’s full health in 2015. The difference? We also project his touchdowns to increase five full scores to 6.79 end zone dances.

Fifth-Round Steal?

If Golden Tate is available in the fifth round of your draft, I highly advise you go get him. Projected to finish as the 15th best fantasy receiver in PPR leagues this season, Tate’s floor is nothing to sneeze at, and his ceiling is, as evidenced by his work during Megatron’s 2014 absence, very high. In fact, his floor may be a conservative projection at this point being that he’ll now be fully comfortable entering his second year in the Detroit offense catching passes from pass-happy Matt Stafford.

Plan for Tate to deliver solid WR2 numbers for your squad if you draft him, regardless of Megatron’s health status. But know that if Megatron goes down for a few games, you’ve got a WR1 on your hands in Tate until Johnson returns.