Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
It's a great day to be Ben Tate ... or is it?
On paper, things look pretty rosy for the Cleveland Browns running back. After four years living in Arian Foster's shadow, Tate finally has a backfield to call his own. And thanks to Josh Gordon's carelessness, Tate's fantasy upside has never been higher.
Cleveland's offense was pretty simple last season: throw it deep and hope Gordon catches it. The strategy didn't produce winning football but the fantasy results weren't half-bad. Gordon toppled Calvin Johnson on his way to becoming the league's most successful fantasy wide receiver, exploding for 221 points in just 14 games (standard scoring).
Unfortunately, passing drug tests has never been a strength of Gordon's. His latest substance abuse violation, this time for marijuana, could cost him the entirety of the 2014 regular season.
That's where Tate factors in. With only Greg Little and a handful of other sub-par receivers to throw to, Cleveland's best bet is to go with a run-heavy attack. That should be something Tate is more than equipped to handle after logging a career-high 215 touches (181 rushes, 34 receptions) en route to 911 all purpose yards during his final season in Houston.
For years fantasy owners have wondered what Tate's ceiling would be like if he ever saw a full workload. With Arian Foster carving up defenses on a weekly basis, that was never a possibility for Tate in Houston.
But in Cleveland, where the four running backs below Tate have a combined 1,079 career rushing yards (Tate has almost double that in his last three seasons), the ceiling can finally be reached. If Tate gets 275 chances to run the football next season (that total would have been tenth-highest in the NFL in 2013) while averaging his usual 4.73 yards per carry, 1,300 rushing yards should be well within his grasp. With seven-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas opening up holes on the offensive line, Tate might become a top-five rusher without even breaking a sweat.
The way I see it, there's only one man who can stand in Tate's way. He's not a large fellow but his name carries plenty of weight. Johnny Manziel, a master improvisor during his days at Texas A&M, loves running the football.
How big of an effect will Manziel's free-lancing ways have on the team's carry distribution? Certainly half backs and run-first QBs have co-existed in the past. The Robert Griffin III/Alfred Morris duo has thrived in Washington while Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have fostered a similar relationship in Seattle.
But for every success story, there have been just as many failures. For example, in Carolina, Cam Newton's tendency to tuck and run has stunted the growth of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Manziel accounted for 31 percent of his team's carries at Texas A&M last season. That number is a lot more workable than the 37.7 percent rate he carried during his freshman year, but it's still a lot to overcome.
If Cleveland runs the ball an average amount next season (the NFL average in 2013 was 433 carries) and Manziel steals 31 percent of those carries, that leaves only 300 totes for the rest of the Browns backfield. Even if 80 percent of those go to Tate, he would still max out around 240 carries. That's middle of the pack among starters.
Even with Manziel and a much improved defense, the Browns are not going to be a good football team next season. ESPN went as far as to put them dead-last in their post-draft power rankings.
As fantasy owners are probably well aware of, losing generally leads to desperate fourth quarter passing. That's probably why the Browns, despite using Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer at quarterback, led the league in attempts last season (681). Obviously Tate's fantasy value would stand to take a major hit if that trend were to continue in 2014.
Cleveland is by no means a fantasy paradise. But if anyone can make it work there it's Tate. If you're looking for a fantasy rock star from the Capital of Rock and Roll, he's the one I would pick.