Fantasy football owners are surely aware of Ben Tate, since he spent the last three seasons as Arian Foster’s backup with the Houston Texans, so with looming free agency and a likely move into a starting role his fantasy stock was tentatively on the rise looking toward next season.
Tate signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, and he will now be No. 1 on the depth chart for the first time in his career. Should fantasy owners expect Tate to become a top-tier running back in 2014?
The Browns’ new offensive coordinator is Kyle Shanahan, who served in the same capacity for the Texans in 2008 and 2009 and will be bringing the same run-oriented, zone-blocking based offensive scheme with him. So Tate’s transition to his new team should be essentially seamless, and current backups Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker are not serious threats to his role atop the depth chart.
Tate started seven games for Houston last season with Foster sidelined for eight games due to a back injury, and not surprisingly he set a career-high for carries with 181 along with 34 receptions in 14 games played. But he battled a rib issue that ultimately led to him being placed on injured reserve with two games to go, and durability concerns have followed him since he suffered a broken ankle during the 2010 preseason and missed his entire rookie season.
In a workhorse role it’s impossible to confidently project a fully healthy season for Tate in 2014, and that alone will keep him from being drafted as a sure-fire RB1 in fantasy leagues. Ogbonnaya may take some snaps on obvious passing downs, but even with the prospect of a missed game or two 280-300 total touches is within reach for Tate next season and that makes him a viable RB2.