Former Texan RB Ben Tate is officially a Cleveland Brown and gets an opportunity to showcase his talents, stepping out from the shadows of Arian Foster. The marriage was a perfect match: the Browns needed a running back after they smartly traded away Trent Richardson at the beginning of the season last year, they had a ton of cap room, and Tate was arguably the most talented running back to hit free agency since Michael Turner. Now that he’s officially part of the Dawg Pound, what should we expect from Tate in 2014?
The first thing to note about Tate’s relocation is this: his offensive line is not going to be nearly as talented as the one he had in Houston. For all the struggles that Houston had last year winning games, they boasted the 10th best run blocking in the NFL in 2013 (per PFF). Compare that to a Cleveland offensive line that was ranked 20th last year. We’re still only a few weeks into the offseason, and plenty can happen between now and September, but so far the Browns haven’t made any moves to bolster their offensive line. The silver lining is that the Browns do employ the same zone-blocking scheme that the Texans did. After the Oakland Raiders showed that it’s not easy to transition between schemes (but then again, they are the Oakland Raiders), Tate’s decisive, aggressive nature will allow him to fit right in with the one-cut scheme the Browns plan to run.
While his offensive line situation is not ideal, the fact that Tate will finally get to be the bell cow of an offense is what will have redraft owners salivating next year. In the 11 games in Tate’s career where he saw the majority of the carries during the game, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry with 205 carries, leading to a 205/900/5 line. I’m going to play the always dangerous “extraopolation game” here, but if he kept those numbers up over 16 games, you have 300 carries, 1300 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tate would have been 3rd in the NFL in rushing last year with those numbers behind only LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. While I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect those numbers from him across a full year, it does go to show you what kind of upside he has. While he may not be utilized very much in passing game due to new OC Kyle Shannahan’s history, Tate should see the majority of carries in a backfield with Chris Ogbonnaya (bleh) and Willis McGahee (double bleh) backing him up. The fact that Tate will dominate the goal-line touches far outweighs the low reception total that he may end up with.
The biggest issue on Tate is going to be his health. He was drafted by the Texans to be the starter, but due to injuries, Arian Foster was able to swoop in and steal the show. The durability concerns are real: he’s been on the IR twice now in 4 years, and the last two years he’s always been bothered by something or another. The types of injuries that he’s sustained though are not injuries of wear-and-tear, but rather a reflection of the style of runner that Tate is. He’s a physical, in-your-face type of runner who will sustain nicks and bruises whether he has 100 carries, or 400 carries. That being said, remember the stats that I extraoplated earlier? Those numbers needed 300+ carries to take him there, and that’s a treshold I’d rather not bet on.
Ben Tate is going to be one of the most talked about RBs heading into 2014. In a world where bell cow RBs are few and far between, it’s rare to find someone so talented change teams via free agency and be provided an opportunity like this. While the offensive line situation may prove a burden to Tate, the fact that the Browns have surrounded him with guys like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to stretch the field, I don’t forsee productivity being an issue with Tate. The limiting factor is going to come down to his health: he has not proven that he can stay healthy these past 4 years in a back-up role; how can it be any better now that he’s a full-time starter? All-in-all, I’m viewing Tate as a guy with one of the highest ceilings, but also one of the lowest floors. Guys of that mold are not Round 1-2 material, but I can definitely see some owners treating him as such. As the start of the season approaches, we’ll have a better idea of what the fantasy community feels about Tate’s worth, but I’ve got a feeling that I’m not going to own him in many leagues. The cost might be too much.