There has been lot of talk about Golden Tate in the last few weeks and months so I wanted to post a piece I wrote about Tate a little while back that took a look at some game tape and broke down some of his strengths and weaknesses. Danny O'Neil did a two part series about Tate's numbers awhile back too that you should definitely check out first if you haven't seen them yet.
O'Neil's first piece took a look at Tate's stats and compare them to other notable 2nd round wide receivers in recent years - and basically points out that Tate is not that far behind what could be 'expected' of a player chosen in the 2nd round. Now, just because he's on pace, so to speak, doesn't mean he still won't ultimately fail. Danny's second piece looks at what we may 'expect' from Tate in year two. The good news is that often wide receivers (for example, high end players like Steve Smith and Chad Ochocinco), see a big jump from their first year to their second in production, something that I know we all hope happens with Tate.
Golden Tate had a very hit and miss rookie season. He ended up catching 21 passes for 221 yards - which is not especially impressive at first glace (though respectable for a rookie wide receiver). He did, however, have some very impressive catches so you hope he's poised to make a big contribution going forward. Simply put, the Hawks need him to.
First off, why did he struggle in his first year? He has the tools - he's got great hands, can break tackles, and is an exciting runner after the catch. He was the toast of training camp and preseason - wowing all the reporters at camp with his incredible acrobatic plays we'd hear about daily. He made some amazing catches in his few game opportunities but those opportunities were scarce because of his issues running routes and making mistakes.
Pete Carroll said early on in the year:
A couple weeks ago he played 20 plays or something and he had four or five mistakes out of those 20 plays so that's more than we want. They're little things, but they're important... It's just holding him back a little bit.
He's close. He's really close and it's just a matter of time.
Tate appeared to do much better in his next outing, hauling in a number of very impressive catches against Oakland, but severely hurt his ankle in that game and was forced to miss the next three weeks. By that time, Brandon Stokley was firmly entrenched at the slot and Tate's playing time dissipated the rest of the year, and he become almost an afterthought in the receiving corps - getting thrown in for the occasional low-percentage fade route, and many people began questioning whether he was a bust already.
Now, I'm inclined to believe Pete when he said that Tate is close. I went back and re-watched the first part of the season where Tate got a lot of time and you can see the potential is there - he makes some impressive catches and his run-after-the-catch ability is incredible. He's very hard to bring down and his balance is amazing. But those mistakes certainly dogged him.
Does he have the ability to eliminate those mistakes? Who knows - but what I do know is that he's a very versatile and dangerous player that the Hawks need to incorporate more into their offense. When they drafted him, it was reported that he was told to be ready for anything - including wildcatting. I don't know if the Hawks will try the wildcat much and I don't necessarily think that they should. What I do think they need to do is work him into the offense creatively without having him rely solely on excellent route running.
As Rob Staton over at Seahawks Draft Blog aptly put it (should be noted that Rob hasn't been super high on the Tate pick in the past, from what I can remember):
I was surprised the Seahawks didn't try to be more creative with Tate. I've always felt that his value comes when the ball is in his hands, so get him running some bubble screens, WR screens, HB screens if needs be - let him play in the slot and get him in space. End arounds. He's not got the size and power to play running back, but you need to be creative with him. If we're expecting that one day he'll be this really crisp productive route runner, then it's a wasted pick. We needed to treat Tate like KC treated McCluster.
McCluster is a very interesting comparison and a very dynamic player. I personally love the idea so I went back and watched a few KC games to see again how he's used in their offense. As a little sidenote, it's also an interesting comparison because I have been thinking more and more that the Hawks' offensive philosophy that is developing looks a little bit like the Chiefs' system. Build around the run - the Chiefs led the NFL in rushing in 2010; mix in a big bodied receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Pick up another big, fast vertical threat in Jon Baldwin. Mix in a speedy, shifty running back/wide receiver hybrid to make plays underneath and from the backfield. Have a mixture of east-west speed running backs and north-south bruisers in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Use your quarterback as a point guard of the system and distribute the ball to your playmakers - ie the most boring Pro-Bowl QB ever in Matt Cassell.
Similarly the Hawks are attempting to focus their offense more on running to set the tone. They have a big bodied receiver to throw to in Mike Williams and just drafted a tall speedster to pair opposite him in Kris Durham. They've got the beauty and the beast running back combo or Forsett/Washington and Lynch. Mix in Golden Tate to run around in the slot or out of the backfield. They have, or are looking for a QB that will point guard their offense. Though I'd say KC is a bit ahead in their plan (maybe a lot ahead), I see a lot of parallel stategery going on here.
Anyway, back to Dexter McCluster: Kansas City used him in a variety of fashions and he was very effective in almost all of them. They used him as a running back in certain sets (keep in mind this is a team with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones to run with as well), they used him on screen and bubble passes, he'd motion in from the wing to the backfield and run the ball. He'd motion from the backfield to the wing and run routes. Basically they got creative with him because he's dangerous with the ball in his hands - and I agree with Rob when he says that's how the Hawks need to approach the Golden Tate situation. I like the McCluster comparison a lot - but it might be even more relevant to compare Tate to Percy Harvin. Harvin did a lot of the things that McCluster did in 2010, but he did it with the Seahawks' current offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell designing and calling plays. If you go back and look at some gametape of Harvin (which I of course did), you can't help but get excited about the prospect of Tate taking that role.
One game in particular was very interesting: the week 7 game where the Vikings traveled to Green Bay to play the Packers. They did a lot with Harvin of what I just described with McCluster - motioning him from the wing into the backfield to run the ball - bubble screens, end arounds, fades, post routes - basically just straight up giving him the rock because he makes things happen. He scored a 17 yard rushing TD on a run up the gut after motioning in from the wing; he scored a TD that was later reversed to out of bounds at the 1 on a short swing/screen pass; he scored another TD on a deep post route at the back of the endzone that was later reversed because he was just out of bounds; all these things just scream Golden Tate to me.
If Tate doesn't refine his route-running skills and the Hawks refuse to use him otherwise then Staton is right - it's a wasted pick. But it would behoove the Hawks to get the ball in his hands because there's no denying that Tate is a talented player. Whether or not he puts it together this offseason, eliminates some of those mistakes and is put in a situation to showcase those talents remains to be seen.
In part two I will break down some of Golden Tate's early successes and failures so stay tuned for that...