Last season, Matthew Stafford got off to a horrendous start, averaging 23.8 completions on 37.2 attempts - 64 percent - for 261.3 yards, 1.5 touchdown passes and 1.3 interceptions through the first 10 games. Then Ol' Jim Bob Cooter implemented a scaled-down offense and Stafford finished the last six games averaging 26.5 completions on 36.7 attempts - 72.2 percent - for 275.8 yards 2.8 touchdowns and .17 interceptions. That's a pretty great run for a player who looked lost half of the time to start the season. It is also a small sample size, but since it coincided with The Cooter taking over as the offensive coordinator, there is hope that it is replicable, which is good news for Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.
During that second-half stretch, Calvin Johnson caught 29-of-53 targets for 386 yards and six touchdowns, while Golden Tate caught 38-of-45 targets for 311 yards and five touchdowns, with Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron coming in third and fourth in targets and fantasy points for the team. The question now is, how will the targets break down after the retirement of Calvin Johnson?
First off, there will be plenty of targets. Stafford threw the ball 632 times last season, which ranked fourth in the league. Calvin Johnson saw 150 targets, which ranked ninth, despite being used as a decoy in two games. Tate was targeted 128 times, while Theo Riddick was targeted 99 times and Eric Ebron totaled 69.
Stafford has said this offseason that the Lions will spread the ball around more with Johnson gone, which he believes will keep opponents guessing. Without a player the caliber of Johnson, it does seem like the best way for the Lions to go, but they do have two good receivers in Tate and Jones, who will be the two top targets on the team as long as they stay healthy.
The question is, how much, if any, will Tate and Jones separate themselves statistically? Both receivers have shown ability, with Tate having more years and health on his resume. Let's take a quick look at a few stats so far in their careers.
Tate has a 66.5 percent catch rate, .07 touchdowns per reception and 12.3 yards per reception. Jones has a 62.3 percent catch rate, .11 touchdowns per reception and 12.9 yards per reception. Both players have often been the second or third option on their respective teams in their careers, so the numbers they have achieved have come with that caveat. But their numbers do mesh to some extent, with Jones usually seeing deeper passes, which hurt his catch rate, while upping his touchdown rate.
Tate put up good fantasy numbers every time Calvin Johnson was out with an injury, but it is hard to say that will be the case now, because Jones will be there, whereas when Johnson was hurt, Detroit had no good replacement for him and Tate was inundated with targets.
Last season, Jones ran for 302 yards of his 816 total, after the catch, and forced 12 missed tackles on 65 receptions, whereas Calvin Johnson ran for 304 yards of his 1,214 yards, after the catch, and forced just two missed tackles on his 88 receptions. Jones is also four inches taller and a more fluid route runner than Tate. I believe the dynamic between Tate and Jones will be similar to that of Johnson and Tate last season, with Jones being the deeper threat, which should give Jones more total yards and touchdowns, but fewer receptions.
In the end, they should be close in fantasy points in PPR leagues, while Jones will take the lead in non-PPR leagues. I believe Jones is the more-talented route runner and has better ability and size to beat defenders on jump balls. And to whet your appetite on just how good Jones can be, take a look-see at his four-touchdown game against the Jets in 2013.
Jones gives the Packers a physical hitter and presence in the middle of their defense. Morgan Burnett is in the last year of his contract, is approaching 30, and had injuries last year. Jones could learn behind him for a year and then take over.