Read just about any fantasy football website around this time of year and they’ll be talking about breakout candidates. This year, one of their favorites to break out is San Diego Chargers tight end, Ladarius Green. Green will be just 24 years old this season playing behind an aging veteran in Antonio Gates, and showed flashes of big play ability last season, all things that could hint towards a breakout in 2014.
Green finished the 2013 season with 17 receptions for 376 yards, for an incredible 22.1 yards per reception. However, with just 17 catches, that also equaled just 23.5 yards per game. Green was on the field for 364 offensive snaps last season, 32.8 percent of San Diego’s total snaps. That comes out to a reception every 21.4 percent of the snaps he’s on the field, which is not a lot.
Even as Gates is aging, he was on the field for 968, 87.2 percent, of offensive snaps. His 77 receptions were his most in a season since 2009. He also produced a rate of one reception for every 12.6 snaps he was on the field. Snaps are not just pass attempts, it includes running plays, so once every 12 to 13 plays Gates was on the field last season he caught a pass.
At first glance it seems that rate might have to drop dramatically for Green to have a bigger impact in the passing game, but it might not. The Chargers may be picking up the pace in the offense and allowing quarterback Philip Rivers more control at the line of scrimmage resulting in more plays being run. This should work out favorably for everyone involved; it should give a few more opportunities for Green to be on the field.
Giving Green more opportunities is the next step to making San Diego one of the top passing offenses in the league. Last season, with Rivers’ 69.5 completion percentage, the Chargers were the second best offense by Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. There could be third-down situations this season that have Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd, Danny Woodhead, Gates and Green on the field at the same time.
While Green certainly has the athleticism to be a consistent contributor on offense, his value in the passing game could hinge on his ability to stay on the field for the running game. If the Chargers are going to play with a two tight end set, it’s unlikely Green takes away too many snaps from a healthy Gates. He will have to sure up his run blocking. With Woodhead, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown all contributing in the backfield, Green will have to earn his playing time on passing downs by being an efficient blocker. He showed some improvement in this department at the end of last season, but still looked raw at other times. If there’s one question about his ability to contribute on the field, this is it.
A complete 2014 breakout doesn’t have to happen in order for Green to take a step forward this season. With the amount of depth at skill positions in San Diego, there will be enough production on offense for the Chargers to remain one of the best in the league. What Green does give them is another big play threat for the next few years in what is developing into a talented young core on offense. Allen has already put himself among the league’s top young receivers, rookie Marion Grice could be an elite pass catcher or an efficient runner even if he doesn’t get much playing time this season, and Green is being groomed as the heir apparent to Gates. Even if this season isn’t the fantasy breakout many are hoping for or predicting, Green will be a valuable piece in the offense this season and for years to come.