Brian Hoyer, Ben Tate's Fantasy Outlook After Josh Gordon's Suspension

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) hands off to running back Ben Tate (44) in the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

If you had any inclination toward drafting Brian Hoyer as your QB2 and perhaps getting surprise production from him this year, well, that pretty much went out the window on Wednesday.   

That's because the NFL upheld its one-year suspension of star wide receiver Josh Gordon, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports:

This is a major blow to the Cleveland Browns offense. It's a major blow to folks who perhaps took a late-round flier on Gordon, hoping his suspension would be reduced. And it's an absolute death sentence to the fantasy value of Hoyer.

For running back Ben Tate, well, it shouldn't be so devastating. But more on that later.

A season ago, Hoyer shined in two of the three games he started (he was lost for the year in the third), throwing for 590 yards and five touchdowns. He scored 18 points in standard-scoring leagues in each game, and the number would have been much higher had he not thrown three picks in the first contest.

The more optimistic owners in fantasy football might have thought he could replicate those performances this season as the Browns starter.

But certainly not now.

In those contests, Josh Gordon caught 14 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown. And in general, his loss means the Browns really don't have a dynamic player who can stretch the field vertically or make big plays after the catch.

Hoyer was always a risky addition to fantasy teams, of course, even in the deepest of leagues. With Johnny Manziel looming, the odds of Hoyer actually holding onto the starting spot for the majority of the season were pretty low.

Remember, members of the Browns themselves seemed split on their preference at quarterback. Safety Donte Whitner was one of them, though he recently clarified some comments he made earlier in the month, when he said there was a "split 50-50" regarding the team's preference between the two players, per Mary Kay Cabot of

I think some guys like Johnny and I think some guys like Brian. Pick your poison. Pick who you like. So that's what I meant. I didn't mean that we were divided. But some guys like who they like. Some guys probably don't like me at strong safety and they probably like my backup in there. So I don't know. But we're not divided on anything based on that comment. Just some guys like what they like.

Not exactly the most resounding vote of confidence for Hoyer, now is it? And the Gordon situation hasn't made his job any easier, that much is for certain.

To recap: Hoyer will be without his top receiver, doesn't really have many promising weapons in the passing game outside of tight end Jordan Cameron and the fans in Cleveland will likely be clamoring to see Johnny Manziel in action. So Hoyer will essentially be looking over his shoulder all season.

Yeah, that's a pretty poor recipe if you're trying to cook up a reason for why Hoyer could be a reliable QB2 this year. I'd advise staying away.

As for Tate, there are a few ways to analyze how this recent—and expected—news on Gordon could impact his fantasy value.

  1. The Browns will now need to rely even more heavily on the running game, Tate will get a ton of touches and, by proxy, have a lot of fantasy value.
  2. Teams will game plan for the Browns to feature Tate extensively and will load up in the box, reducing his statistical output. 
  3. His workload will indeed increase, but the injury-prone Tate won't be able to handle the heavy workload and will break down.

When I first started writing this section, I thought I was penning three distinct scenarios. The more I looked at it, however, the more I wondered if I've actually just made a prediction for the progression of Tate's season. Keep in mind that Tate's value for fantasy owners comes mostly from an opportunity perspective.

There are running backs who are fantasy starters at the position because they are dynamic talents. These include players like LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte. There are players who are viable starters because of the offense they play on. Montee Ball comes to mind here. 

And then there are players who are worthy starters simply because they are the clear starters (rather than being a cog in a running-back-by-committee situation), they should see solid usage, and running back is unpredictable enough this year that these types of players have seen their values elevated because of it. Think Toby Gerhart here.

As NFL Philosophy on Twitter notes, Tate essentially fits into the latter camp:

The morale of this story is that some players, like AD, can overcome an opponent stacking the box, while Charles is dynamic in the passing game. Tate is not one of those players. With the threat of Gordon taken out of the equation, teams aren't going to allow the Browns to beat them by running the ball. 

In other words, Tate is going to get a high usage, but much of it likely won't be terribly efficient. He's still an RB2 candidate, of course, but don't assume that Gordon's absence helps Tate. Far from it. 

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 18: Running back Ben Tate #44 of the Cleveland Browns warms up during a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 18, 2014 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

In fact, the only player who could maybe, possibly see a bump in value is tight end Cameron, who is now the clear No. 1 option in the passing game. Remember, in Hoyer's two big games last year, Cameron caught 16 passes for 157 yards and four touchdowns, notching a total of 39 fantasy points in standard leagues.

Those weeks represented two of the five double-digit outputs he had last season. With Hoyer under center and clearly in need of Cameron to carry the load in the passing game, the tight end could have another big season for fantasy owners. He may be the only Browns player to do so.


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