The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Phil Alexander
"Ladarius Green is the next great fantasy football tight end."
Fantasy analysts have been making this claim for years now. And for years it's turned out to be worse advice than the time your college roommate talked you into snorting that shot of vodka because he swore it would get you drunk faster.
As badly as things have gone for Green truthers to this point, now is not the time to hop off the bandwagon. A move out of Antonio Gates' Hall of Fame shadow and into one of the league's most efficient offenses finally opens the door to the breakout season so many of us thought was coming as far back as 2013.
Green signing with Pittsburgh is the perfect marriage of talent and opportunity. By now you're probably familiar with his unnatural blend of size and speed (6'6'', 240 lbs., 4.53 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine), but lost amidst the years of failed expectations is the fact Green has been great in his limited opportunities.
Since entering the league in 2012, Green's 8.91 yards per target average ranks behind only Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce among tight ends (minimum 100 cumulative targets). And his 14.12 yards per reception trails only Gronkowski's 14.85. In the five games Green has played in his career without Gates in the lineup, he's averaged 3.8 catches, 50 receiving yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game -- a season long pace of 61/800/10 (or TE6 in PPR leagues last year).
Green is positioned to meet or exceed TE6 numbers this season, but he's still being undervalued as the consensus TE9 according to our ADP data. The Steelers averaged the sixth-most points per play in the NFL in 2015 and over 30% of their high-quality targets will be aimed at different receivers this season. Heath Miller's retirement and Martavis Bryant's suspension also opens up 35% of Pittsburgh's red zone targets from a year ago. No one on the Steelers is better suited to soak up those scoring looks than Green, who caught five out of his eight red zone targets for three touchdowns last season.
Considering Pittsburgh ran the 10th-most plays from inside their opponent's red zone last year, Green's touchdown upside is matched only by Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, and a healthy Tyler Eifert among tight ends. The only thing standing in his way of a double-digit touchdown season could be recovery from offseason ankle surgery. The injury sidelined Green throughout OTAs and his status for the start of training camp is uncertain. But as long as he checks out healthy, don't be afraid to reach for Green a round ahead of his ADP -- the stars are aligned for an all-time post-hype season.
Low Side by Matt Waldman
I want to jump on the fantasy bandwagon for Green, I really do. But he had golden opportunities to wrest the job from an aging, and oft-injured, Antonio Gates and couldn't do it. It's not like Green has shown the flashes of Delanie Walker sitting behind Vernon Davis when Davis was churning out TE1, TE3, and TE8 production from 2009-2011. Gates was TE12, TE9, TE2, and TE11 since Green entered the league and Gates only missed 5 games in 4 seasons after missing 9 games the 2 years prior to Green's arrival. To be fair to Green, the youngster played behind a future Hall of Famer with gas left in the tank and a quarterback who knows every contour of Gates' vehicle.
Why the doubts? Because I only see three ways Green turns in a TE1 season:
- Two of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates Jr get hurt early in the year.
- Ben Roethlisberger delivers a top-3 fantasy season at his position.
- Roethlisberger gets hurt and Pittsburgh's backup leans hard on the tight end.
Without a slew of injuries, Green is the third or fourth option in an offense that’s new to him. If he has as great season as this low member on the totem pole, Roethlisberger is vastly undervalued and poised for a huge year. I'm more open to this Roethlisberger-as-fantasy-juggernaut possibility than it appears.
A major “if” is Green. He runs fast, he catches the ball over his shoulder, and he has some skill in the open field. But if he can't develop the quality of rapport with a veteran like Philip Rivers, it's not going to happen with Roethlisberger. My friend Kyle Posey at Bolts From the Blue has a strong analysis of Green's game that he wrote for the site last August. I'll give you the highlights:
- Green is a terrific athlete who can run down the likes of Tavon Austin from 30 yards away.
- He is incapable of tracking and avoiding the middle linebacker dropping into zone coverage and a getting open for his quarterback.
- Consistently gets rerouted by the defense, which means the offense will have to move Green around a lot to get him open.
- Green lacks physicality with his route techniques to beat coverage.
- Rivers didn't earn enough reps with Green to deliver the TE the ball in tight quarters consistently enough for Green to make a difference.
Roethlisberger will need to show he trusts Green early and he's willing to fit the ball into tight areas where Green can win the ball. I've seen Green do this with some success as a weapon in college but the opportunities have been too few in the NFL to ascertain if he can transfer these skills to the pros. Understandably, Green is worth the risk as a late-TE1 investment for fantasy owners even if my rating is far lower because underrated options with lower ADPs will still be on the board as a hedge. But for now, I'm staying away from Green until I have a better feel for the Steelers offense.