This will be the first season for the Detroit Lions without Calvin Johnson in the lineup, which is part of the reason why quarterback Matthew Stafford is being drafted in Round 12 in 2016 Fantasy Football leagues.
In his final season, Johnson posted a 88-1,214-9 stat line. That was good enough to make him the 12th-highest scoring wide receiver in PPR leagues.
For 2016, the biggest question is who will be the biggest benefactor of Johnson’s departure. Or, if it will take a committee to replace the legendary receiver.
Let’s take a look at the outlooks for Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.
2016 Fantasy Football Outlook: Golden Tate
Last season, I warned Fantasy players that Tate was way overvalued.
If you drafted him because you expected Johnson to start slowing down, that’s the only reasoning I could see for adding him to your team in Round 4. But outside of that, I thought it was fairly obvious why he wasn’t worth drafting so early.
If Johnson was in the lineup, Tate wasn’t going to be a reliable Fantasy option. In four of the five games in which the 27-year old receiver recorded 100 or more receiving yards in 2014, Johnson was not in the lineup.
When Johnson was limited or not very involved, Tate was very productive that year:
Week 4- Calvin Johnson: 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards
Week 4- Golden Tate: 8 receptions, 116 receiving yards
Week 5- Calvin Johnson: 1 reception, 7 receiving yards
Week 5- Golden Tate: 7 receptions, 135 receiving yards
And when Johnson didn’t haul in a catch at all, we saw similar results:
Week 6- Golden Tate: 7 receptions, 44 receiving yards
Week 7- Golden Tate: 10 receptions, 154 receiving yards
Week 8- Golden Tate: 7 receptions, 151 yards
Tate had a solid football season for the Lions in 2015, posting a 90-813-6 stat line. But he only finished as the 24th-highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues, which wasn’t a great ROI if you drafted him in Round 4.
There were better options at receiver in each of those rounds. You could have drafted Jeremy Maclin or Amari Cooper in Round 4, who finished as the 15th-highest scoring receiver and 21st-highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues respectively.
But when I was reviewing Tate’s prospects for 2016 Fantasy leagues, I wanted to see if we could expect him to increase his playing time to help him crack the top 15.
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Johnson wasn’t on the field as much in 2014 because he was injured, but Tate has been on the field roughly the same amount of time for offensive snaps the past two seasons. But if he takes over Megatron’s role, we could see him crack the 90% rate.
And it’s obviously helpful for Fantasy players when their receivers are on the field more.
Tate saw 17 targets in the red zone last season, while Johnson saw 20. So Stafford was actively seeking out the 5-foot-10 receiver when he was close to scoring even with Johnson in the lineup.
The one area of concern, though, is Tate finished with the ninth-most receiving yards in the NFL last season. The three receivers immediately behind him in Fantasy points, though, outperformed him in receiving yard totals and touchdown totals.
If Tate were going in Round 2, I would completely avoid him. I don’t think he can see much more than the 99 receptions he saw in 2014 and the 90 he saw last year. But as a fourth-round pick, I’d be willing to take a shot on him in PPR leagues.
But before drafting Tate, please don’t automatically assume he’s going to take over right where Johnson left off. Tate has had a lot of opportunities to be relevant in this offense already, and it’s not like he’s been stuck with just 30 or 40 receptions each year.
2016 Fantasy Football Outlook: Marvin Jones
Jones always seems to be drafted before I get a chance to add him to my roster, but I think he’s a savvy pickup in formats like MFL10s. He didn’t make it on my winning MFL10 lineup last year, but I’m going to be targeting him this year.
The 26-year old receiver always seemed on the verge of Fantasy relevancy, but he wasn’t going to be the top receiver in Cincinnati with A.J. Green still in the lineup.
One reason to like Jones over Tate is red-zone drives. Jones (6-foot-2) is smaller than Johnson (6-foot-5), but he is bigger than Tate (5-foot-10). And like I mentioned earlier, Johnson was targeted 20 times in the red zone while Tate was targeted 17.
Another reason why Jones is worth adding to your roster is that we have no idea how Stafford will respond to not having Johnson in the lineup for an entire season. It’s easy to assume Tate would soak up more targets, but what if Stafford relies on a committee of Tate, Jones, and tight end Eric Ebron? What if Tate is relevant some games, and Jones is relevant the other half?
There’s also the scenario where Tate becomes injured, and Jones receivers the bulk of the workload in the passing attack.
In season long leagues, I’m not initially expecting a lot of consistency from Jones. I would be worried if I had to rely on him too heavily to begin the 2016 Fantasy Football season.
But because he’s an eighth-round pick, you aren’t risking much to find out what he can do.
Bottom Line: Without Calvin Johnson in the lineup, the assumption is that Golden Tate will take a big step forward in 2016. While he appears to be a value as fourth-round pick based on Johnson’s totals as the lead receiver from the previous seasons, keep in mind that Tate has finished with the same amount of receptions as some of the top receivers in Fantasy Football. Yet, he only finished as the 24th-highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues last season. Marvin Jones was stuck in A.J. Green’s shadow in Cincinnati, but he gets a fresh start in Detroit. He might not be able to dethrone Tate as Stafford’s favorite receiver, but he certainly has upside. He’s a great addition to MFL10 rosters.