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tate

The Browns’ offense was already going to be in for quite the offensive overhaul in terms of play calling splits under Kyle Shanahan when they selected Johnny Manziel. Now that red flag number three for Josh Gordon may cost him the entire season, there could very well be even more of emphasis on the run game this season in Cleveland.

A season ago, only Dallas and Atlanta called fewer run plays than the Browns. 14 different players had a rushing attempt for them during the season. Amidst the revamp, they signed Ben Tate to a two year deal in free agency, drafted small school stud Terrance West and signed the troubled Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted rookie immediately after the draft ended. It’s a brand new group, but who should you go after?

Recency Bias

For three years, a large part of the fantasy community paraded their “Free Ben Tate” picket signs in front of Texans offices. He was the most popular handcuff not only because the Texans and their zone blocking system, which stemmed from Kyle’s dad, frequently turned water into wine for owners, but Tate also was a high, talented draft pick.

Tate was finally unleashed a season ago when Arian Foster was lost for the season, and didn’t provide much for fantasy owners, posting just three top 24 weeks in his seven starts. So after years of being desirable, apparently the current notion of him is that he’s lousy. The overall body of work wasn’t endearing,  but Tate was pretty much a victim of being caught in the Great Houston Dumpster Fire of 2013, and our good friend Mr. Game Flow completely wrecked his fantasy value. Here’s the total play calling splits in the weeks Tate was the starter.

Houston Play Calling Splits Weeks 9-15

Score

Plays

Pass %

Run %

Lead

100

50.0%

50.0%

Tied

39

71.8%

28.2%

Trail

327

67.3%

32.7%

Total

466

63.0%

37.0%

Houston only had a lead1 during four of those seven weeks he started, and ran 70 percent of their offensive snaps while trailing. For running backs, being on the negative end of so much game script is detrimental to fantasy value, and Tate was hardly an exception.

Ben Tate Splits Weeks 9-15

Score

Att.

Yds

TD

Rec

Yds

Lead

34

127

1

2

-1

Tied

8

52

1

1

9

Trail

73

274

1

15

76

Total

115

453

3

18

84

When the game script was neutral, Tate was still a solid performer behind a terrible offensive line. Those situations were just were far from often. You can still ding him for being the running back version of Elijah Price, as he’s missed eight games in his first three seasons, but when he’s on the field, he’s still played well.

Tate vs West vs Crowell

When Tate first signed in Cleveland, I went back and looked at Kyle Shanahan’s running back usage and found that he prefers to lean on one lead back in his offense when the option presents itself. If the offense is really going to be a representation of what Washington did in 2012, you want that lead guy. But who is that player? Let’s hold a beauty pageant audition between the three to see if we can’t determine a winner.

The Bikini Round : Measurables

Player

Rookie Age

Ht

Wt

BMI

40

Vert

Broad

20YS

3C

West

23.6

69

225

33.2

4.54

33.5

120

4.44

7.28

Crowell

21.7

71

224

31.2

4.57

38

117

N/A

N/A

Tate

22

71

220

30.7

4.34

40.5

124

4.12

6.91

All three are very similar in terms of build, and all three meet the required speed threshold for their size. Tate separates from the group though in that area. He has the fastest forty time of any back over 220 pounds in my database and crushes the others in explosion and agility. Crowell and West are much more equal battle in terms of next in line and even though Crowell is a far cry from really being Christine Michael, he holds his own compared to West. Crowell skipped agility drills at the combine and inclement weather cut his pro day short, but West wasn’t strong.

The Talent Competition: Performance

Player

Car/G

Yds/G

TDs/G

RECs/G

West

25.8

156.8

2.6

1.6

Crowell

14.2

93.4

1.3

0.6

Tate NCAA

20.2

104.8

0.8

1.5

Tate NFL

17.6

72.3

0.4

2.1

*Final Year NCAA Stats *NFL Starts used for Tate

We have an NFL body of work for Tate already, and when he’s started, he’s played adequately, not great. Crowell gets knocked down a peg for not being a workhorse, which hurts his overall projection. Both he and West played against subpar competition, but West carried his team and the football much more. Looking at the hardest games on their schedules, West carried 36 times for 156 yards and two scores against UConn while Crowell carried 12 times for 84 yards facing Kentucky. Crowell does have a body of work facing elite college completion in the SEC, but he still only averaged 15.4 rushing attempts per game that season.

Even though Tate has averaged an insanely laughable 4.9 yards per reception in the NFL, he’s at least shown he can catch passes. West has as well while Crowell averaged under a reception per game at both Alabama State and Georgia. The truth is, all three with their similar size leave the door open for a pass catching back to cut into any third down role the lead back may have.

Equity: Dress Round

The Browns went out and signed Tate to a two year deal this offseason, but it only totals $6.2 million with only an extra $200K available through incentives. He’s also going to be 26 years old this season, so the clock is ticking on his window of apex production. He actually doesn’t have any history working with Shanahan, who left for Washington in Tate’s rookie season, but he’s very familiar with the system.

West has some value going for him because the Browns traded away two draft picks to acquire him. One of those picks was only 12 spots after the pick they acquired him at, so there was concern amongst the front office that they were going to miss out on him. Trading up also means that they clearly had him as the third best running back in this class, if not higher. Long term, a third round selection doesn’t force Cleveland to get married to West as their lead guy, but it’s a feather in his cap.

Crowell certainly means something to them since they immediately snatched him up after the draft ended. Many scouts believed he was the most talented back in the class, but he still wasn’t selected due to what is believed to be off the field and effort narratives. The fact that Cleveland still grabbed him after the fact they were stomach punched by the Gordon news also means they see something there talent wise. His value to them is minimal, so if he doesn’t deliver in training camp, he could be moving on to another team in preseason like Da’Rick Rogers a year ago.

That uphill battle is a problem in dynasty leagues as well for those hoping that this is a situation where the most talented player rises above all else, like Zac Stacy a year ago. Since 1980, there have been 259 individual seasons in which a running back has rushed for 800 or more yards in any of his first three seasons in the league. Of those 259, only 19 have been from unrestricted free agents and only four players had multiple seasons.  I’ll leave you the list below, but it pushes Crowell into low probability of having success in the NFL.

Player
Year
Age
Tm
Att
Yds
Y/A
TD
Y/G
Willie Parker200525PIT25512024.7480.1
BenJarvus Green-Ellis201025NWE22910084.41363
Willie Parker200626PIT33714944.41393.4
Arian Foster201024HOU32716164.916101
LeGarrette Blount201024TAM20110075.0677.5
Marcel Shipp200325ARI2288303.6051.9
Priest Holmes199825BAL23310084.3763
Ryan Grant200725GNB1889565.1863.7
Arian Foster201125HOU27812244.41094.2
James Allen200025CHI29011203.9270
Stacey Mack200126JAX2138774.1954.8
Ryan Grant200826GNB31212033.9475.2
Bernie Parmalee199427MIA2168684.0657.9
Ryan Grant200927GNB28212534.41178.3
Fred Jackson200928BUF23710624.5266.4
John Settle198823ATL23210244.4764
Marcel Shipp200224ARI1888344.4655.6
Dominic Rhodes200122IND23311044.7973.6
Fred Lane199722CAR1828094.5762.2

The Envelope Please

In redraft leagues, we’ll have the luxury of seeing this situation play out over the summer. For 2014 purposes, you’d really like to see rookie derangement syndrome  and injury concern suppress Tate’s ADP because he’s the most talented and experienced player that is tied to the most immediate cost for the franchise.

For dynasty, Tate is a guy you want to use up for a year or two as lesser lead back and then spit out. I would suggest selecting Crowell in rookie drafts late if you’re a believer in his talent. I personally wouldn’t use anything above a fourth round pick on him. Oddly enough, I could still see him being selected by many over West even though he has to walk the road less traveled. There may even be an opportunity to select West in the second and Crowell later if someone isn’t crazy on how hard the road is for Crowell.

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2 comments
sportstalkryan
sportstalkryan

How does the fact that Tate was playing with four broken ribs last season change the analysis, if at all?  Do you excuse his average performances from last season and assume he would have performed better at full strength?  Or do you say that this is further proof that the man just cannot stay healthy enough to meet his potential?

LordReebs
LordReebs

Even at full strength, the Houston team as a whole wasn't conducive for running back fantasy scoring. I don't think his overall performance would've faired much better because he's not an elite pass catcher. His injury history is a concern going forward, which could make him a value for those who draft WR early and ironically, inflate his backups this year.