Get used to the screen game: What the Golden Tate trade means for the Eagles offense

On the last day of the trade deadline, just as they added Jay Ajayi last season, the Eagles upgraded their offense by shipping away a mid-round pick. Former Detroit Lion Golden Tate will join the team in exchange for a 3rd-round pick in 2019.

First, let me say: what a savvy move by GM Howie Roseman. Knowing that Tate will likely demand a large contract and will not be short of suitors when his contract expires following this season, the Eagles probably only got as much as a rest-of-season rental. However, if the newly acquired receiver makes a big splash as expected, the Eagles should recoup a 2020 3rd or 4th round compensatory pick. A draft pick this year is always valued higher than a pick next year, but the trade boils dropping down a round or two in the draft for Golden Tate. Not bad Howie, not bad.

Now, here’s what you should expect from the vet and Pederson’s offence going forward: screens.

There will be more screens, more variations of screens, and a sprinkling of short passes. This is because of Tate’s incredible talent after the catch. Currently sitting number two in total yards per catch in 2018, Tate has been known as a consistent achiever in the yards after catch category for many years. A bulk of these yards come from screens and short crossing routes. On average, his targets have come 5.9 yards down field, 7th shortest among all players and 2nd shortest among wide receivers. This isn’t likely to change with the jersey.

The Eagles YAC leaders are Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. Clement, who has tallied 140 yards after the catch actually has more YAC than total receiving yards. Why is that? You guessed it: screens. Almost at aggravating levels, Doug Pederson has leaned on the screen game in short, medium and long yardage situations. Think of it as a mock-Patriots offence in the Wes Welker days. When you can’t run the ball — and the Eagles have struggled to do so with Ajayi out — you have to find creative ways to get the ball to your play-makers early. Thus, Howie went out and got a YAC-master for Doug to use as a huge boost for the screen game. Don’t get me wrong, Nelson Agholor has the athletic ability to be efficient on screens, although they haven’t relied on him that often to do so; Tate is just a different breed with the ball in his hands.

Below are Tate’s stats for the 2018 season:

Receptions Targets Catchable Targets Yards YAC TDs Catch Rate True Catch Rate
2018 44 69 54 517 281 3 63.8% 81.5%

He averages 7.5 yards per target, 11.8 yards per reception and 2.21 yards per route run. Where the stats get really impressive is when you factor in the yards after catch. Tate averages 6.4 yards after the reception and his 281 YAC means that 54.4% of his total receiving yards have come after the catch. In 2017, he was Football Outsiders’ 7th ranked YAC+ receiver (comparing YAC to expected YAC based on the “average NFL receiver”).

There are two setbacks to the fit of Tate in the Eagles offence. The first is the drop problem. The Eagles have, perhaps uncharacteristically, struggled with drops from key players this year. They add a player who leads the league with 7 drops so far this season. This figure becomes slightly less daunting when considering his drop rate is only 10.1% (13th). However, what may the biggest conundrum is how the Eagles brass will handle the timeshare of he and Nelson Agholor in the slot. Will the formation feature more slot packages? Will we see Nelson or Golden take more snaps on the outside? Will we see a fast rotation of slot receivers with a bevvy of quick passes and screens and more no huddle offence? We’ll have to wait two weeks to find out, when the Eagles take on the Cowboys for the first time this season. The one thing is for certain: expect the screen game to be in full force.

 

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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