The Cleveland Browns made their expected splash into the free agent running back market by signing Ben Tate, formerly of the Houston Texans, to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million. Tate is an immediate upgrade in the running back corps for Cleveland and in theory, he should give the Browns the much needed punch in the running game they’ve been sorely lacking. Over his three year career in Houston, Tate has posted 1,992 rushing yards on 421 carries (good for a healthy yards per carry average of 4.7) and ten touchdowns. He’s also caught 58 passes for another 287 yards. Tate has shown explosive ability and a ruggedness the Browns could really use.
So, why is this an upgrade only in theory?
Like most of the moves in free agency this year, this one comes with a lot of risk in both reality and fantasy. Tate has battled his share of injuries, including ankle, foot, hamstring and rib issues over the past three seasons and has never played 16 games in any year. In fact, many dynasty league owners remember taking Tate with a high first round pick in 2010, only to see him break his ankle in the preseason opener and be placed on injured reserve, opening the door for Arian Foster to become a fantasy dynamo. Much like Hakeem Nicks and Toby Gerhart, there are no sure things when it comes to assessing the fantasy value of Tate. The free agent market was simply littered with players with lots of upside and lots of question marks.
Let’s assess the players whose values have been affected by this move.
Ben Tate, RB CLE
Let’s start with the positives.
If Tate is healthy (and that’s a HUGE if), he should provide a much needed boost to a team needing a weapon in the running game. The offensive line is underrated and Tate has shown the ability to succeed in this type of run blocking scheme. Our own Jeff Miller recently cited lead backs average 260 touches per season under new Browns Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan versus 172 the year before his arrival. If there are signs Shanahan is comfortable with the 2014 presumed starter in Cleveland (now Ben Tate), their stock should take a significant leap up. In short, it’s a perfect fit for him if it works out. He should give the Browns an effective runner who can break a big play or get a third and short when they really need it. His presence would keep defenses more honest and open things up for Josh Gordon and company.
And the negatives?
Health is the biggest concern, but Tate (much like Gerhart) is likely going to be playing with a rookie quarterback. With just Brian Hoyer on the roster, the Browns are most certainly going to add another signal caller in the 2014 NFL Draft like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles. Defenses will likely stack the box and rush the passer, daring a rookie to beat them. If Hoyer wins the job, it’s a little safer, but he’s also inexperienced and unproven.
In the end, Tate represents a high risk, high reward player in dynasty leagues. It’s exciting to see him get his shot, but anointing him as a rock solid RB2 with little to no worry would be a bit of a pipe dream. Like many free agents coming signing before him this week, his value comes with an asterisk. Feeling lucky?
Edwin Baker, RB CLE
Not much changes on the Baker front as he remains a deep sleeper and roster stash in large dynasty leagues. He showed well last season in limited duty, rushing for 171 yards and two scores on 43 carries. He’d be a good handcuff to Tate owners at the moment, but we’ll have to see just what the Browns do in the NFL Draft to address the position. He was never a realistic option as a starter going into the season.
Fozzy Whitaker, RB CLE
He’ll likely compete with the likes of Jamaine Cook, Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya for a roster spot. Whitaker and Lewis look to be the best out of that group, but you’d have to be in a really deep league to place any type of value in this group.
Arian Foster, RB HOU
With Tate out of the way in Houston, the stage is set for his comeback. What does he have left? That question is the one every single fantasy owner would love to have the answer to.
Dennis Johnson, RB HOU
If the Texans fail to address the position in the NFL Draft, Johnson looks to be the new handcuff to Foster in Houston – that’s a designation not to be taken lightly with Foster’s recent injury struggles. Johnson fared pretty well last year in spot duty last season and should be on the radar in virtually every dynasty league.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK