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In 2015, the Green Bay Packers have seen a statistical emergence from tight end Richard Rodgers. Whether due to the absence of Andrew Quarless or just the second-year bump that head coach Mike McCarthy loves to talk about, Rodgers has become a much bigger part of the Packers' passing game this season, especially in recent weeks.
It's time to start thinking of him as a legitimate fantasy football option every week, or at least as an ideal player to stream based on the matchup in front of him.
One year ago, Rodgers totaled 225 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions and 30 targets. That catch rate of 66.7% was slightly higher than his quarterback Aaron Rodgers' overall completion percentage, which was 65.6. This year through 13 games, he has more than doubled his production in just about every major category, with 49 catches on 70 targets (catch rate of 70%), which account for 442 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Admittedly, Richard Rodgers is not the type of game-breaking tight end that has become so en vogue lately. He ranks 27th out of 30 qualifying tight ends in overall yards per reception, and he is just 16th out of those 30 in total receiving yards this year.
However, where Rodgers has been excellent is in the red zone, as he is tied with Jordan Reed of Washington for fourth in the league at the position with seven touchdowns. Of those scores, only one, the hail mary to beat the Detroit Lions, was from more than 9 yards out. That success has been critical lately as well, as Rodgers has scored at least once in four of the Packers' last six games.
In fact, his ability to find paydirt lifts him up to 9th place among all tight ends in both standard scoring and PPR fantasy formats.
If you look at his stats from Sunday's win over Dallas, you might think his workload regressed - he caught just one pass, a three-yard touchdown. However, I argue that this was an acknowledgement of the defense that the Packers were playing against. The Cowboys rank third in the NFL in defensive DVOA against tight ends. Two weeks ago, Rodgers exploded against the Lions, even before his Hail Mary reception, and the Lions rank 30th in that same stat. That seems to me to be a conscious effort on the part of the coaching staff - they saw him as a player that could exploit a weak spot in the Detroit defense, and fed him the ball with eight targets. Against Dallas, they acknowledged the Cowboys' strength in defending the position and did not force him the ball.
This week, Rodgers gets a more appetizing matchup against a Raiders defense that ranks around league-average against tight ends. That should put Rodgers closer to the 7 targets he averaged between weeks 9 and 13, which should bring you around 60 yards and a score with upside for an even bigger day.
He'll never be a YAC machine, and he might not ever be a top-ten tight end in terms of receiving yards. Still, Richard Rodgers' ability to find the end zone combined with the Packers' coaches judicious usage of him against favorable matchups should make him a useful piece in both your fantasy playoffs and weekly leagues over the final few weeks of this season.