Much will be made of the Cleveland Browns' perpetually unstable quarterback situation until it's resolved and a starter is named for Week 1. One player who ought to remain atop the depth chart, finally fulfill his potential and transform into a fantasy star this 2014 NFL season is running back Ben Tate.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi noted how third-round rookie Terrance West is challenging Tate for carries at training camp:
"@Jerod_Barker89 what is the best non QB battle to watch? // Ben Tate v Terrance West. It's on.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) August 9, 2014
However, Peter King of TheMMQB.com reports that Tate has plenty of faith in his own ability to be the feature back in Cleveland:
BEREA, Ohio-RB TWest challenging Ben Tate for carries. Tate verrrry confident ... Really like the confidence/intelligence of CB Joe Haden.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 12, 2014
According to 92.3 The Fan's Daryl Ruiter, Tate admitted that he underwent an adjustment period during the Browns' preseason opener on the road against the Detroit Lions:
"I felt a little rusty out there, once you get some live game action. I was happy with how we moved the ball" - RB Ben Tate via #Browns— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) August 10, 2014
Make no mistake, though, the 25-year-old ball-carrier is in line for a big year. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left the Houston Texans for Washington ahead of the 2010 season, which was Tate's rookie year in Houston.
Tate missed his maiden year in the pros because of a broken ankle and was just a little late on being coached by Shanahan.
Nevertheless, Tate made the most of his opportunities under coach Gary Kubiak, who still deployed a version of the zone-blocking scheme that Shanahan is implementing in his first year with the Browns.
An average of 5.4 yards per carry and 942 rushing yards in 2011 got Tate's career started in a positive direction. As KFFL.com shows, though, he has quite an injury history.
DraftBrowns.com's Brendan Leister notes how Tate is in line for a strong 2014 campaign as long as he's able to stay on the field:
Should have a good year. He’s in the right scheme with a good OL. Must stay healthy. RT @ecarlisle10: thoughts on Ben Tate this year?— Brendan Leister (@BrendanLeister) August 13, 2014
Tate figures to be in the lineup even if he is in a considerable amount of pain, though. In his final year in Houston last season, Tate played through four broken ribs for what turned out to be the NFL's worst team, honored his contract and amassed 771 yards with an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
In addition to an ideal scheme fit, Tate has a high-quality offensive line that features Pro Bowlers in left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack as well as second-round pick Joel Bitonio.
Check out Pro Football Focus' evaluation of the left guard in his first taste of NFL action, courtesy of ClevelandBrowns.com's Kevin Jones:
Rookie guard Joel Bitonio was @PFF's highest rated Browns offensive player against the Lions— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) August 11, 2014
So run left, right? The blocking style the Browns are deploying also helps in the screen game, where Tate has been underutilized throughout his carer because of the presence of Arian Foster.
Tate is a former second-round pick, and he's finally about to play like it. This is the first real chance he's had to seize a starting job. Although West is bulky and will be a handful to tackle, he has some concerns surrounding him that suggest Tate will be installed as the primary back and won't look back.
Remember from earlier that Tate is still just 25, while West—a rookie coming out of an unheralded program in Towson—is already 23.
On top of that, WashingtonPost.com indicates West carried the ball a mind-boggling 413 times in 2013 for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns—albeit against competition that pales in comparison to the NFL.
In stark contrast, Tate has registered just 421 carries in his entire NFL career.
The defenders weren't nearly as punishing for West's touches at Towson, but talk about some serious wear and tear. In addition to processing the massive NFL learning curve, there ought to be questions about West's durability.
It's not as though West will be a non-factor in the rushing attack.
Take a traditionally dinged-up back in the San Diego Chargers' Ryan Mathews from 2013. Mathews probably wasn't too hot a commodity in fantasy leagues in 2013, yet he amassed 1,255 yards on 285 carries.
There was still plenty of wealth to spread around in terms of touches, too. Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers threw for 4,478 yards on 554 attempts, and 151 additional carries were available between Danny Woodhead (106) and Ronnie Brown (45).
What is Ben Tate's fantasy upside in 2014?
Keep that situation in mind when contemplating Tate's fantasy outlook. Although it's just one case study, San Diego's success suggests there's still plenty of room for West to contribute.
And it's not as though the Browns have a surefire star under center.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine is going to have an emphasis on defense and the rushing attack no matter who the QB is for Cleveland this season. That philosophy will also let Tate—along with the fantasy owners bold enough to take a chance on him—reap the massive benefits.
Whether it's the game manager in Brian Hoyer or the razzle-dazzle rookie Johnny Manziel running Shanahan's show, this is going to be a run-first offense.
Hoyer is conservative and quick with his reads, and he takes what the defense gives him. That would allow Tate to pound the rock and wear down the opposition as the game goes on.
The threat Manziel brings to keep the ball on the zone-read option adds a whole other dimension to Cleveland's ground game, which would open up even wider lanes for Tate to rumble through.
The carries Manziel would get on his own offset the increased value Tate would garner with a greater quantity of explosive runs.
A hunger to prove he can be the workhorse will drive Tate to immense success through numerous one-cut runs, an increased involvement as a pass-catcher and an unprecedented confluence of favorable circumstances to reach his NFL ceiling.
Projected fantasy numbers: 270 carries, 1,200 yards, 10 TDs; 25 receptions, 200 yards, 2 TDs.