Is Golden Tate the player that puts you over the top? Is he the guy that brings you level with the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams?
Is he redundant? Is he another slot receiver on a team that already has Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews?
The cop out answer probably falls somewhere in between. Tate is a hell of a player, a YAC monster who can make things happen with the ball in his hands. No, he’s not going to blow the top off of a defense and stretch the field like DeSean Jackson, but you can throw him some dink and dunk five-yard stuff that he’ll turn into 15. He immediately improves the Eagles’ offense.
One thing seems very clear; this is not going to be a dominant running team moving forward. It’s going to be Wendell Smallwood and whatever Doug Pederson does with Josh Adams and Corey Clement. Darren Sproles is a total question mark at this point with the world’s most severe hamstring strain. What you’re seeing here is something similar to what the Patriots do, which is surround Tom Brady with playmakers and just get the ball in their hands. The Eagles’ passing game is going to be even more of an extension of the running game now, with that typical 60/40 pass and run split probably skewing closer to 65/35 moving forward.
Howie Roseman spoke to media after the Birds shipped a third round pick to the Lions yesterday, and he was asked specifically about Tate’s fit in the offense:
Traditionally, he’s excelled in the slot, similar to where WR Nelson Agholor is most effective. Is that a bit of a redundancy or is it more about just adding a good player? (John McMullen)
Roseman: No, you have versatility there. All of those guys can play inside and out. That’s the excitement that our coaches have: you’re not just having one guy lined up in a particular situation and the defense knows that this guy is going to line up there. For us, that’s another part of the excitement of bringing in this guy: his inside-out versatility. It’s the same with Nelly; he has inside-out versatility. Alshon lines up inside and out. Our coaches have a game plan for all of those guys and certainly [for] our tight ends in the middle of the field and the damage that they can do. And we are going to get some guys back [from injury], too.
So we want to be multiple on offense; we want to be a handful for defensive coordinators. This guy is a heck of a player and I think our fans are going to be really excited to see him in Eagles green.
I get it. Versatility is good. You want guys that can do different things. It forces defenses to think and balances your offensive approach.
Philosophically, I guess it just comes down to whether you prefer singularity vs. multiplicity. Do you prefer a position-specific player who does one thing at an elite level (JJ Redick)? Or do you like versatile players who do a few things at an above-average clip (Robert Covington)? I think I prefer the former, though the best teams have a little bit of both. And that’s not to say that Tate can’t be wildly successful here, I just feel like a speedy outside guy would have made more sense for what the Eagles specifically need right now, because they already have a couple of above-average flex receivers.
According to Pro Football Focus, Tate ran 79% of his routes from the slot last season while drawing an “average depth of target of 6.7 yards.” That ranked him 49th of 51 receivers who had at least 75 targets.
So here’s an intriguing chart for you, which shows how each receiver performed in air yards vs. yards after the catch:
Let's try this again.
Two things make up yards per reception: air yards and yards after the catch on the completed pass. Here's every 30+ target WR charted by YAC (x-axis) vs. air yards on receptions (y-axis). It's cluttered, but wanted names in there at the extremes. pic.twitter.com/sJqwjL6ZGI
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) January 8, 2018
Tate is way over to the right, which means that he’s relatively low on the air yards total but a total YAC monstrosity. He’s been incredibly effective at converting yards after the catch even though he historically doesn’t get many downfield looks. If you look closely, you can see Agholor in the middle of that chart, with a similar number of air yards but about 300 fewer YAC yards.
What does any of this actually mean for the Eagles and how do they use him?
I’d honestly just run a lot of four and five-wide and spread the ball around, just dink and dunk and throw short bullshit passes and let your weapons do their thing. It’s not like the any Eagles running back is that good at pass blocking anyway, so I’d love to see Carson Wentz come out with some Tom Brady quick release stuff and just sling the rock around the field.
Classic four receiver set and one of the most common NFL offensive looks. Here you can just move Alshon Jeffery to the outside and sit down Jordan Matthews, who played a lot of wide reps on Sunday.
And a five-wide set could look something like this:
That’s mismatch-city right there, and the things you can do with Ertz, Tate, Agholor, and even Dallas Goedert are very similar to how Seattle had success using empty set against the Eagles last year.
Another easy way to use your glut of inside guys is to just go trips on one side, let Alshon play on the weak outside, and roll out something like this:
Try to cover Ertz, Tate, and Agholor running three different routes out of that set.
The Eagles really have a ton of flexibility here. They’ve been mixing and matching all season long, with Ertz moving around, Agholor moving around, and a lot of plug and play across the line of scrimmage. It isn’t resulting in explosive deep plays, but they’ve had success spreading the ball around and getting different people involved, which really was their bread and butter en route to the Super Bowl last season.
Roseman was also asked about the pursuit of players at other positions, and ended up describing Tate as a “playmaker” without shoe-horning him into a specific category:
What kind of efforts were there to acquire players at other positions? Why wide receiver over running back, defensive back, defensive line and cornerback? (Dave Uram)
Roseman: Yeah, again, as we talked about here, there is no question about the efforts we made here in the last couple of weeks. We just try to find the best player that fits our system and our culture. When we looked around – it’s a supply and demand market and you have to deal what the supply is on the market and then whether you’re willing to pay the price. For us, this is a player who’s a playmaker. You just can’t put him into a position. He’s so good with the ball in his hands. He can play inside and out. He’s got return experience as well. He doesn’t just fit in a box. He can help in a lot of different ways and when we look at our skill positions as a whole, and maybe some of the guys we have coming back, we’re really excited to get going here for the second half of the season.
Tate is a great receiver and a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He really is a perfect fit for this city and I think Eagle fans will really appreciate his approach to the game.
No, he doesn’t fix the defensive lapses and the running game and the issues on the offensive line, but Carson Wentz now has a smorgasbord of dangerous targets to throw the ball to. Should be fun to see how both he and Amari Cooper look when the Birds play the Cowboys next Sunday.