The Ben Tate hype train is set to hit unprecedented speeds and with it will go a number of fantasy owners off the track who do not heed the warning signs along the way.
Tate has been on fantasy owners' radar for quite some time as the former Auburn star showed plenty of flashes as the backup to Arian Foster in Houston. Now he just so happens to be in an ideal situation in Cleveland with an offense led by coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who employs a zone-blocking scheme ideal for Tate's strengths.
His average draft position now of 5.12, making him back No. 28 off the board in drafts, will only swell further now that he recently ran for 51 yards on 10 carries in Week 2 of the preseason.
The problems, though, are plentiful.
Most concerning is Tate's inability to actually stay on the field. He has missed 24 games in just three seasons thanks to injury. His fantasy profile at ESPN speaks volumes about the severity of the situation:
Since 2010, he has hurt his ankle, quad, back, hip, groin, shoulder, head, toe, hamstring, foot, elbow and ribs. All in all, Tate has been on his team's injury report 80 percent of the time over the past four seasons, missing 24 games.
Shanahan's instinct will be to ride Tate hard. But if he does, Tate is a candidate to miss multiple games, just like he usually does.
While his numbers to date suggest better things in the future, those game totals on the left are quite concerning:
While it's great that Tate now has a chance as a starter, it means little if his body succumbs to the stress of pro football yet again. When it does (it seems downright ignorant to assume it won't once more), the Browns have a player in place who can steal the job and keep it even when he returns healthy.
That man would be third-round pick Terrance West, who has looked great in the preseason and incited a bit of a competition that has since been won by Tate. Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty put it best:
Ben Tate looked good this evening, but has to cut out the fumbles — not to mention minor injuries — if he wants to hold off West all season.— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) August 10, 2014
But West has more than enough talent to steal the job, and at 5'10" and 225 pounds he will remind many of Shanahan's former star back, Alfred Morris, who rumbled for 1,610 yards and 13 scores in 2012.
The praise from within the organization for the rookie should strike fear into Tate owners. Take a look at what running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery had to say, per Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com:
Terrance West has some shades of Brian Westbrook. He can break you down with his right leg. He can break you down with his left leg. He has that Ricky Watters, Walter Payton, lure-you-to-sleep-on-the-sideline move that I can accelerate or play like I’m going to accelerate and come back inside. Those are traits I haven’t seen in a while.
Now pair that with the fact Tate has already confirmed to Kevin Jones of Browns.com that he "...will welcome help because I don’t want to run myself into the ground.”
Do not forget about the team around Tate, either. It will be either a rookie or veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer under center, meaning defenses will primarily focus their attention on the talent in the backfield on most downs.
The offensive line is elite, and the scheme is ideal, but it all wraps back to one thing—Tate cannot stay healthy, and a role as a starter may only accelerate his trip to the trainer's table.
Some may use the argument that Tate does not have a lot of wear and tear on his body because he only has so many carries at the pro level, but that's kind of the point—he still looks fresh from a carry standpoint because his body can't hold up under higher-usage rates, and said rates came as a backup.
To be fair, Tate's ADP is right where it needs to be. It may continue to swell into the realm of ridiculousness based on an overreaction to an exhibition, but for now it sits in a smart slot.
What is Tate's fantasy role this season?
The problem transforms, then, into the nitty-gritty strategy. If there are owners out there willing to wait and grab Tate as a No. 2 back in a league that starts two at the position, they may as well forfeit before the season begins.
Now as a flex option that can rotate in each week based on the injury report and matchup? Bingo. In fact, that is a good way to treat an oft-injured, obviously talented running back. Pick the right week and Tate as a flex may score more than one or both of the starters. If Tate's on the shelf with another injury, owners can draft a Fred Jackson three rounds later and get steady production nonetheless.
To expect anything more from Tate is a reach. Could he bust out a 16-game season and total 1,500 yards and 10 scores? Sure, but in a game that is all about making the correct educated guess, Tate's track record works against him.
Let the roll of the dice fall to another owner until Tate can prove to be durable and productive.