Fantasy owners just can’t seem to figure out what to do with Ben Tate. We like to compartmentalize our players, and Tate really doesn’t fit anywhere—he’s more than a handcuff, less than an RB2, and buried behind fantasy’s best back. With an ADP in the eighth round, one could argue that he’s both an overpriced bench player who rarely has any use, and an underpriced lottery ticket with top-10 potential. So is there a right answer?
It’s not that easy. Fantasy value is in the eye of the beholder, and Tate’s worth significantly varies depending on roster makeup. We can begin to navigate his mid-round no man’s land, however, by considering the two primary perspectives from which to view him.
I’ll start this off with a mini-rant. I’ve heard the argument that even though Foster has established himself as the clear No. 1 back, some owners would prefer Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy, because then they don’t have to “waste” a mid-round pick on a handcuff. This logic is idiotic on multiple levels.
If that’s really your hang up with Foster, then just don’t draft Tate. It’s not mandatory. You’re not breaking any laws by opting out of the handcuff. By drafting Foster and passing on Tate, you’re simply assuming the same vulnerability level of Rice or McCoy owners, as neither of them come with the option of a true handcuff. Passing on Tate is a gamble that can net you a useful mid-round WR/QB/TE—whether the reward validates the risk is for you to decide.
Tate represents an optional, platinum-level insurance policy, and an RB3 who can be used with Foster when the matchup permits. So when does the matchup permit? Tate is primarily used to run clock in garbage time, so instead of focusing solely on the strength of the opposing run defense, owners need to identify games in which Houston is expected to roll. Be careful—there’s typically a correlation, but not always. Because there was no clock-killing opportunity in Week 15, Tate carried just seven times against a very competitive Carolina team that ranked No. 31 against opposing fantasy backs. Conversely, Foster and Tate played together in three 10-plus-point Houston victories, and Tate notched healthy totals of 15, 12 and 13 touches. Conclusion: Big margin of victory trumps matchup strength when deciding whether or not to deploy Tate.
If I’m a Foster owner, I’m using a sixth-round pick on Tate. Injuries happen, especially to running backs. You’ll sleep well if you invest in FosterCare, and you’ll get a handful of spot starts to boot. Because he could step in and deliver top-10 production if Foster goes down—a safety net not available to any other first-rounder—drafting Tate means you’ll be the only team in your league that’s not one catastrophic injury away from a lost season. Tom Brady (2008) and Jamaal Charles (2011) owners would agree—Tate is a luxury Foster owners should take advantage of. Auction Tip: If you’re locked in on Foster, you may be able to save a couple bucks on Tate by grabbing him first and circumventing the popular “drive-up-the-handcuff-price” bidding maneuver.
Just because you missed out on Arian Foster, doesn’t mean you can’t go hard after Tate. I mentioned earlier that if injury were to strike Foster, Tate possesses top-10 upside, as witnessed by his four 2011 games as lead back, when he scored twice and averaged 23 touches for 115.5 combo yards. That extrapolates out to eight touchdowns and nearly 1,850 total yards.
Granted, four games is a small sample size, so let’s take into account all of Tate’s 2011 work. Last season Arian Foster averaged 0.77 fantasy points per touch, while Tate averaged 0.68. To get an idea of what he could do with a full workload, take a look at the final numbers of RB3 Maurice Jones-Drew (0.65 FPPT), RB5 Marshawn Lynch (0.67 FPPT) and RB6 Michael Turner (0.66 FPPT). And if you’re concerned about the loss of right tackle Eric Winston, which is valid, keep in mind that the success of Houston’s dominant run game has more to do with their well-oiled zone-blocking scheme than individual talent.
Ultimately, if you’re a conservative, balanced drafter who makes calculated decisions, you’re probably better off waiting until the eighth round on Tate, or passing altogether. Odds are, he’s not going to help you on a week-to-week basis as much as most other sixth/seventh rounders.
However, if you are “doing the opposite” (upside down drafting), and are loading up on mid-round backs in search of the homerun, Tate is a textbook target worthy of a seventh-round selection.
I’m not sure how much clarity I’ve actually shed on the Curious Case of Benjamin Tate, but my hope is that somewhere in these 900 words of analysis, you’ve found a nugget of rationale that applies to your individual draft strategy.