“Green” Means Go: Don’t Overlook Ladarius
With finding a consistently productive tight end being so difficult in fantasy football — unless you happen to land Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski in the early rounds — we as fantasy players are left to play roulette. Due to the lack of consistency at the position, we tend to look for players who have shown flashes of upside or possess elite measurables in the later rounds of our drafts.
Both of these are credible starting points, but good fantasy owners dig deeper into a player’s situation. By doing so we can enhance the probability to select a player who can help take us into our league’s playoffs.
For years I have looked for players in the later rounds that I feel have certain characteristics.
2.) Strong Skill Set/Athleticism
3.) Promising Offensive Scheme/Role In The Offense
Ladarius Green fits all of the above in my checklist.
Antonio Gates is no longer in his prime, and lets be honest, he will likely be hanging up his pads in the next one to two years.
Ladarius Green was selected as the 110th overall pick in the 4th-round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was drafted as a project player at his position, expected to eventually replace Antonio Gates within two to three seasons. Gates is set to make $5 million next season with a cap hit of $7.36 million. If the Chargers decide to trade or release him, they would take a cap hit of $4.725 million.
When looking at Green’s snap count throughout the 2013 season, you can tell the coaches were trying to get him more involved in the Chargers’ offense.
- In weeks 1-10: Green was on the field for 18.4% of the offensive snaps.
- In weeks 11-13: Green was on the field for 53.9% of the offensive snaps.
- In weeks 14-playoffs: Green was on the field for 54.5% of the offensive snaps.
His targets dropped after Week 13 but his playing time remained constant. The drop in targets could be due to defensive coverages, or the Chargers implementing a more run heavy offensive approach during those weeks.
Mike McCoy, San Diego’s head coach, shared some thoughts from the 2013 season suggesting that he should have gotten Green more involved in the offense earlier in the year when he stated the following:
“What happened with him last year he made the most of his opportunities. Early in the year, they were limited. As time went along, and as an offense, you always evolve to what your players do best.
“Being together for the first time, there were some things we were still learning about our team. It takes time and Ladarius made the most of his opportunities. When he was in at the right time, he was continuing to make plays. You wish you would have done that a little earlier.”
Ladarius Green has been working as the Chargers’ No. 1 tight end during mini camp while Antonio Gates attends to a “very personal matter.” It’s an opportunity for Green to build chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers and impress the coaching staff for more playing time.
Ideally, Green should become Philip Rivers’ No. 2 target in the passing game behind Keenan Allen.
A ROLE CHANGE
In 2013, San Diego hired Tom Telesco as general manager and Mike McCoy as head coach. Chargers president, Dean Spanos, chose Telesco as the team’s new general manager. Telesco was hired after long time general manager A.J. Smith was fired in 2013. He inherited a team that had not made the playoffs since 2009.
Telesco has an extensive history in pro-scouting and player personnel decisions. Most notably with the Indianapolis Colts during the Peyton Manning era.
McCoy also brings an impressive resume to the Chargers. He is the former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Denver Broncos. Last season, Denver’s Julius Thomas ranked eighth in the league for both receptions and receiving yardage by a tight end. His 12.1 yards-per-reception (YPR) put him behind only Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis.
The reason why I bring Julius Thomas into this discussion is that he and Ladarius Green share a very similar skill set and measurables. Both are considered to be new age “basketball player-type” tight ends in today’s heavily pass oriented NFL.
In 2013 Julius Thomas averaged 64.4 plays per game and was a top 10 tight end in fantasy football. In comparison, Ladarius Green averaged approximately 32 plays per game. With Antonio Gates nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career and declining production, Green is expected to see an increase in snaps this year.
Telesco has indicated the Chargers desire to infuse more speed into the offense during the year ahead. And it’s obvious when looking at the game tape that San Diego needs to get Ladarius Green more playing time. According to Pro Football Focus, Green was asked to block on 59.5% of the 450 offensive snaps he played last season. This is mainly due to head coach Mike McCoy implementing more “11 personnel” (1 RB back, 1 TE, 3 WRs) to help simplify the offense and assist the offensive line in blocking.
This high usage of the package forced Green to be used more as a blocking tight end. However, in Week 10, McCoy switched the offense and highlighted Green as a weapon who saw at least 40% or more of the team’s snaps from that point on until the end of the season. It should be no surprise to see Green play in 50-60% of the snaps this year based on Antonio Gates’ age and the increased playing time Green received in the later portions on his 2013 campaign.
Ladarius Green has the skill-set to be an elite tight end in the NFL. He just needs more opportunities, which he has already proven he can make the most of when his number is called.
The main issue for Green is he has a Hall of Fame player ahead of him on the depth chart. But 2014 will likely be Antonio Gates’ last with the San Diego Chargers. In the upcoming season I project Green to get at least 60% of the snaps. That would nearly double his 2013 average. McCoy may choose to implement more two tight end formations in order to get both Green and Gates on the field more often.
I don’t see Green becoming an elite player this year, but I do see a bright future for him in 2015. Many of Green’s dynasty owners are growing impatient with him, so if you have the opportunity try and acquire him now as his best years are still to come.
Even in redraft leagues Green’s ADP (average draft position) is in the 11th-round. But he could be this year’s Julius Thomas, so don’t make the same mistake with Green that a lot of us did with Thomas last season by passing on him in our fantasy drafts. You don’t want to miss the train when he breaks out in 2014.
Stat Projections for Green in 2014: 55 receptions, 625 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns