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Sports Authority

Sant-Miller: A Golden, though injured, fate

| Friday, November 7, 2014

NFL’s most talented wide receiver has barely played in half his team’s games, and most fans would barely recognize his name. Fair, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but Calvin Johnson Jr.’s absence hasn’t been well publicized.

Currently, his Detroit Lions lead the NFC North with a record of 6-2. The Lions are still 9th in the league in passing yardage, throwing for just under 260 yards a game. Though no one can replace the physical freak that is Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-5 and runs a 4.35 forty-yard dash, offseason signee Golden Tate is having a career year and is currently fourth in the NFL in receiving yards.

No, Tate is not pulling down the touchdowns. He only has three this season. Nor has he been the dangerous downfield threat Johnson historically has been, failing to fall into the top 10 in receptions of 20 yards or more.

Yet, Tate has thrived in the two most essential areas for an offense to thrive. First and foremost, the 5-foot-10 receiver is moving the chains. Thirty two of Tate’s 55 receptions have gone for first downs. That mark sits at eighth in the NFL. In other words, Tate is helping Detroit’s offense stay on the field.

More explicitly, Tate is the No. 1 receiver in the NFL in first-down receptions on third down with 15. Often termed the “money down,” Tate is moving the ball when he is most needed. There is no receiver or tight end more dependable on third down when an offense needs to convert for a first down.

Speaking of dependability, that is where Tate thrives the most. Tate has pulled in 55 of his 80 targets, for a mark of 69 percent. Of eligible receivers, Tate is fifth in the NFL in that mark.

Dependability is a highly valued trait in a receiver. That sense of reliability, where a player can act as a quarterback’s security blanket, cannot be understated. Every offense needs a go-to player, a player who can move the chains and a player who can consistently provide yardage. So far this season, Detroit has had that in Tate, as he has helped lead the team to the top of the division.

Golden Tate is no Calvin Johnson Jr. In fact, few players can come close to matching his freak athleticism and knack for making big plays. Yet Tate’s reception rate this season exceeds any mark previously attained by Johnson.

If I ever cam close to saying Golden Tate is better, or even as good as Calvin Johnson, I would be run out of dodge. No, he isn’t making the splash, double-coverage plays that make Johnson so special. No, he isn’t averaging almost 18-yards per reception or on pace for 16 touchdowns in a season.

But he is doing what is asked of him. He has developed into a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Tate is on pace for 1,600 yards and 110 receptions, all while being one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL and consistently coming up big on the “money down.”

This is a big step in Tate’s career development, as he was always overshadowed in Seattle. Soon, he will be overshadowed again, when Johnson returns to front and center stage. Yet, what will become of that Detroit offense when Johnson does return?

For years, Lions fans have been calling for a legitimate threat opposite Johnson. They have been calling for a receiver to make tough catches over the middle. They have been calling for a player to take pressure off of Johnson.

No, Tate isn’t the next Calvin Johnson Jr. But, he is the exact player Detroit needs. He will continue to move the chains and pull in tough catches. Most importantly, Tate will continue to make the Lions’ offense dangerous and consistent.

Watch out NFL. When Johnson comes back, the Lions will have arguably the best receiving tandem in the NFL and two legitimate No. 1 receivers.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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