Fantasy Football: Why do the Chargers hate Ladarius Green?

At this point, you probably don’t need much of a primer on Ladarius Green, one of the most widely-discussed players in fantasy football.  But you’re probably baffled as to the delay of his rise to stardom.

Here’s a quick 25-cent tour of why he’s so highly coveted in our little game:

–          He’s enormous.  Green measured at 6’6” 238 at his 2012 combine, with huge hands (10.1”) and an imposing wingspan (34.5”).

–          He’s athletic as all hell.  At his combine, Green ran a 4.45 40, better than that of Jimmy Graham (he also equaled or bested Graham’s running splits).  Green also posted a very attractive 34.5” vertical and 10’4” broad jump.

–          He’s a big-play machine.  In his two-plus NFL seasons, Green has averaged a stunning – STUNNING – 19.8 yards per catch.  No notable tight end in recent memory can approach that mark.  Hot damn.

–          During the Philip Rivers Era, Antonio Gates has averaged a 72-922-9 line (based on a 16-game season).  With Gates aging and declining, Green should see a real opportunity to shine at any moment.

Should.

Despite that startling collection of facts, that’s the most crucial word I’ve typed thus far.  Should.  That’s been the operative word on Ladarius Green since his breakout appeal become apparent early in the 2013 season.  Upside chasers like us have been counting down the days of Gates’ borderline-HOF career, expecting Green to instantly take over and excel.  “This should be Green’s year,” we’ve figured.  “Green should climb the pecking order like a maniac in his third year,” we’ve mused.  “Phil Rivers should LOVE looking for Green down the seams,” we’ve reasoned.

But it hasn’t happened.  Gates has shaken off his mid-career injury issues to play in 33 of 34 games since 2012, and while his play has dipped noticeably, he still has the trust of Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers.  And for whatever reason, the Chargers prefer to use the mediocre Eddie Royal as their full-time slotman, eschewing the mind-numbing upside of Ladarius Green in that role.  Choosing between a walking mismatch in Green and a diminutive slotman with a pathetic career 10.8 YPR mark in Royal, the Bolts have gone for the latter.

Why? I don’t know.  My best guess is that Royal is more adept at the quick-hitting Welker-esque routes to serve as Rivers’ security blanket, despite a subpar 58% career catch rate.  Whatever the reasoning, Royal has a fairly prominent stake in the Charger passing game while Green has none whatsoever.  Since the start of last season, the Chargers have overwhelmingly (and confusingly) used three- and four-wide sets rather than multiple-TE looks.  This has kept backup TE Green off the field and stuffed mediocre WR talents like Royal and Vincent Brown onto it.

So, if you’re trying to forecast Green’s usage, don’t concern yourself much with Gates, who will always be an offensive focal point.  Pay attention instead to the play and health of Royal as an indicator of Green’s role.  As Royal goes, it seems, so does Ladarius.  Pro Football Focus notes that, when Royal battled injuries late last season, Green’s target totals began to climb noticeably.

An even more surprising factor in Green’s slow development has been his strange usage in the blocking game.  A decent blocker but phenomenal receiver, Green was asked to block on 59.5% of his limited snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus.  This I can’t explain, but it just can’t continue.

What does this all mean going forward?  Should you dump Green, or at least consider him expendable in redraft?  The short answer is yes: if you’re in true need of a roster spot, redrafters can swallow hard – you’ll taste something hard and greasy in your throat – and send him to the waiver wire.  (Just know that in doing so, you’ll lose him.  Green has too much upside and exposure to last in free agency; he’ll be claimed quickly.)  Furthermore, your waiver wire probably has a handful of other young, gifted TEs for you to take a stab at down the road.  Do your absolute best to hold tight, but at this point, his short-term outlook is just too cloudy to leave your roster damaged elsewhere for the sake of a backup TE.  I’m all for stashing a high-upside youngster on your bench, but not if it’ll cost me a prime and essential waiver talent.  (The word essential is key here: don’t dump Green just to dump him, or to take a flier on Antone Smith.)

But if you’re thinking of cutting his extraordinary talent loose in a dynasty format, shoot me your e-mail address in the comment section.  I’ll be clearing spots for you in all of my leagues.

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