Fantasy owners rejoice: Golden Tate could return to slot dominance in 2017

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Whether Golden Tate lines up on the left side, right side or in the slot, whether he’s the No. 1 receiver or the No. 2 receiver, the results at the end of the season all end up around the same with the Detroit Lions.

Tate has caught at least 90 passes in each of the three seasons he’s been in Detroit. He’s gone over 800 yards every season, too. And that role, it might be changing again.

Last season, the Lions used Tate in the slot less because of the signing of Anquan Boldin, who took the majority of his snaps in the slot. Where Tate got at least 350 routes per season in the slot his first two years in Detroit, he had only 165 routes out of the slot last year, while Boldin had 459.

Now Boldin is gone and Tate could be back to the do-everything-from-everywhere role he had in his first two years with the Lions.

“I mean, I had 1,000 yards last year playing from the outside and I had 1,000 yards my first year playing both, really,” Tate said. “So I think it’s unique that I can execute outside or inside. I don’t really want to label myself as one or the other.

“I just want to go out there and make plays. Wherever there is going to be an opportunity for me to make a play or get open, that’s where I want to be.”

In 2014 and 2015, Tate received the majority of his routes and targets in the slot: 367 routes and 68 targets in 2014 and 363 routes and 76 targets in 2015. He had, by far, his most catches and yards from the slot in those two seasons, too, with 47 catches for 678 yards in 2014 and 53 catches for 515 yards in 2015. Not surprisingly, he had his most fantasy points from the slot in each of those years -- 92 in 2014 and 58 in 2015.

Even last season, with a changing offense under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and the presence of Boldin limiting him to 161 slot routes, he had 42 targets with 32 catches for 259 yards. He had more receptions from the slot than any other spot on the field if you take the left and right wide spots individually, but far fewer yards. Tate had 397 yards lining up on the left side of the field last season and 421 yards lining up on the right side of the field.

In wins and losses, though, it’s been a negligible difference when Tate has a lot of slot production in a game or very little. The Lions are 6-3 when Tate has 50 yards or more out of the slot and 6-4 when he has less than 10 receiving yards in the slot -- but Detroit is 0-2 when Tate has gone without a catch in the slot. Both of those games were last year, losses at the Bears and at home against the Packers.

So far in training camp, the Lions have lined Tate up everywhere. That might be why his career has blossomed in Detroit. In four years in Seattle, Tate ran more than 100 routes out of the slot in just one season, 2011. Every year he’s been with the Lions, he’s run at least 161 routes in the slot.

In Detroit, the Lions use him like a matchup game piece to find ways to take what he does best -- get him the ball in space and make defenders miss so he can rack up yards after catch. They give the ball on quick routes and let him do his work while occasionally looking for him downfield for big gains.

Based on how the Lions operate, figure that will continue this year, too.

“It’s not much different, you know,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I think in 2014 he played a ton of snaps inside so I’ve got some familiarity with him in there. He’s going to play all over the place, as are all our guys.

“We just move guys around, try to find matchups and go play.”

When the Lions find Tate often, it usually leads to success. In games where Tate had 75 or more yards receiving with the Lions, Detroit is 11-5. When Tate has under 25 yards receiving in his three years in Detroit, the Lions are 0-4. When Tate has three or fewer catches, the Lions are 2-6. When he has at least seven catches, Detroit is 13-6.

Tate’s consistency is there, no matter where he lines up and what is asked of him. And he’s played in every game, giving the Lions a reliable option they can move anywhere and know they’ll get production.

“He’s one of those guys that every year, I don’t care when it is, it’ll probably be at the end of this year, too, perhaps that he’s going to be well up into the 80s, maybe in the 90-catch range,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “And he does things in a variety of ways for us. I anticipate that’s going to continue.”

Some numbers in this story were provided by ESPN Stats & Information and by ESPN’s Mike Clay.