Golden Tate, one of the most prolific offensive talents to play for the Detroit Lions, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles just hours before the league’s trade deadline on Tuesday, but I assure you, the sky isn’t falling.
Without a doubt, Tate’s role in the offense was sizable, his presence was noticeable each and every week, and his production was substantial: Tate was leading the Lions receivers in targets (69), yards (517), and receptions (44) through seven games this season.
The Lions are in the playoff hunt and Tate was handling a 27% (TWENTY SEVEN PERCENT) target share. Just a really bizarre move.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) October 30, 2018
And even after all of the rumors, to call this move a surprise is totally justified. For a team that just traded a fifth-round pick in an effort to fix their biggest deficiency on defense—which past production and early returns suggest they absolutely have—it seemed like general manager Bob Quinn was a buyer ahead of the trade deadline. Given the timing, the news of the Lions acquiring Damon Harrison Sr. made it seem like the team was gearing up for a playoff run.
But after the team’s convincing loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks, and the move to deal Tate now, it seems to say otherwise about how the team views itself... at a cursory glance.
Detroit remained a potent offense despite the loss of Calvin Johnson Jr. after the 2015 season, and a lot of that credit unquestionably belongs to Golden Tate, first and foremost. Adding Marvin Jones Jr. didn’t replace Calvin, but the offense certainly changed it’s approach, and the production that followed proved the Lions hardly skipped a beat to remain one of the better passing offenses in the league. However, that didn’t stop Quinn from investing further at the wide receiver position.
Kenny Golladay, the Lions third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, has shown a lot of promise in his relatively short time here in Detroit. Clearly so much so the team is confident in him and the aforementioned Jones Jr. keeping the passing offense humming right along without Tate in the fold. From what Golladay has shown so far on the field, the sophomore wideout is deserving of the chance to prove how valuable he can be in this offense, and he’s entirely capable of shouldering a heavier workload.
Earlier this season, Golladay was a focal point of the Lions offense, and he was one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL:
During Week 1-3, the #Lions averaged 70 plays per game (5th most). Kenny Golladay ranked 13th in targets (9/game).— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) October 29, 2018
Since then, the #Lions average 56 plays per game (dead last). Kenny Golladay ranks 74th in targets (4/game).
In those first three games, Golladay averaged around 66 snaps per game and he was at his most productive: Golladay averaged 85.3 yards on 6.3 receptions and 0.66 touchdowns per game over that stretch of the schedule.
Arguably his best performance of the season, Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, Golladay earned an individual grade from Pro Football Focus of 89.6—his season high—and racked up 98 yards and a touchdown on just four catches—and one helluva stiff arm:
What’s important to keep in mind in this discussion post-Tate is that this isn’t a debate of Golladay’s production versus Tate’s output. Both of these players were valuable to the Lions identity on offense for different reasons; however, it’s become increasingly clear over the course of this season that Golladay is deserving of a bigger role. In Detroit’s three victories this season, Golladay has made the most of his opportunities, and his big-play ability is versatile.
From a formation versatility standpoint, Golladay has been both efficient and effective from the slot this season, a place Golden Tate has made a more permanent place of operation in his career. Of the 264 routes run by Golladay this season, 84 of those routes have come from the slot according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s been productive lining up there: catching seven of 11 targets for 163 yards and a touchdown. What’s also worth noting is how Golladay, since the start of this season, has been the team’s starting receiver opposite of Jones Jr. when the Lions are lining up in two-wideout sets. To add to that point, it’s been the tandem of Golladay and Jones Jr. on the field in those two WR sets where the offense has performed as the most successful version of itself according to Warren Sharp:
I hope the Golden Tate trade dramatically shifts the Lions offense to more 2 WR sets rather than the inefficient 3-4 WR sets they've been using:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) October 30, 2018
• 3 WRs: 48% success, 7.1 YPA, 94 rtg
• 2 WRs: 66% success, 7.8 YPA, 128 rtg
Of course, we’re all familiar with Golladay’s ability to make big plays downfield, and his 15.9 yards per reception—good for 13th in the NFL—is evidence of that. What might come as a surprise is his ability on the ground after the catch. Golden Tate is forever the #YACKing, but the numbers suggest Golladay could be a worthy heir to the throne. In 2018, Golladay’s 184 yards after the catch are good for 24th in the NFL, and his 6.1 YAC/REC doesn’t sit far behind Tate’s 6.4 YAC/REC this season.
With nine games left for the Lions, the team’s hopes for the playoffs haven’t been dashed solely because the team parted ways with Golden Tate. Sitting at 3-4 with a stretch of three divisional games over the next four weeks, the NFC North title is still very much in play for Detroit, and Kenny Golladay will play a crucial role in determining the success of this offense going forward. He’ll have every opportunity for the rest of this season to display his versatility and prove he’s up to producing at a high level to put Detroit’s offense among the best in the NFL.