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Is Ben Tate in line to be the next Cleveland Browns running back?

With Ben Tate being shut down for the rest of the season, rumors are swirling involving the Houston running back's future. Tate is currently in the last year of his contract and is set to become a free agent in March. Tate has proved to be a more than capable starting-caliber running back despite his limited carries and will likely find himself reporting to training camp in a new city next July. According to league sources, Cleveland will be "aggressively pursuing" the former Auburn Tiger when the free agency period opens in March. 

The Browns rushing game is struggling, to say the least. Others would call it "non-existant". Since trading former first-round pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, the Browns have employed a runningback-by-committee that has seen 6 different players take handoffs at running back this year, including a 32-year old Willis McGahee and former practice squad players Chris Ogbannaya, Fozzy Whittaker, and Edwin Baker. The Browns are currently ranked 27th in yards per game and no player has accrued more than 400 yards this season, which is something current Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner is not accustomed to. Turner has had a 1,000 yard rusher in 15 of the 23 seasons he's been a coordinator or head coach in the NFL.

Some would say that Norv Turner has been blessed with strong running backs throughout his entire career. After all, he's had the fortune of coaching two Hall of Fame running backs in Emmitt Smith and LaDanian Tomlinson as well as a stable of talented, Pro Bowl players in Frank Gore, Ricky Williams, Stephen Davis, Terry Allen and Ryan Mathews. Others, however, would say that Turner seems to get the most out of his backs. Terry Allen posted career highs under Turner in Washington. Stephen Davis posted career numbers, was elected to two out of his three total Pro Bowls and was a two-time NFC leading rusher under Turner. Ricky Williams' best season, and only Pro Bowl nod, were under Turner's watch in Miami. Frank Gore's best season to date was his sophomore season, the only year Turner was employed by the San Francisco 49ers. Even LaMont Jordan, a relative disappointment in the NFL, was able to rush for 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns in one season under Turner. 

Whichever way you choose to look at it, history shows us that Norv Turner and successful rushing attacks go hand-in-hand. Tate could very well be the next in a line of productive running backs that have played for Norv Turner throughout the years.

The following table shows the similarities in size and speed between Ben Tate and a sample of former successful running backs under Norv Turner:

   Height  Weight  40 Yard Dash
Emmitt Smith  5'9"  210 lbs.  4.55 
 LaDanian Tomlinson  5'10"  220 lbs.  4.46
 Frank Gore  5'10"  210 lbs.  4.55
 Ryan Mathews  6'0"  218 lbs.  4.40
 Ben Tate  5'11  220 lbs.  4.43

Tate, a second round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, possesses the right combination of size and speed to succeed in the current Browns offensive system. At 5'10 and 220 pounds, he's nearly of identical size as former San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson. Tate, however, recorded a faster 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine than any of the aforementioned running backs, excluding Mathews. Tate is solid enough to run through arm tackles in the box and is quick enough to skirt larger, lumbering interior defensive linemen in the open field. Tate's small stature gives defenders a smaller target to hit, yet his heavier frame is able to punish those who do hit him, similar to former Browns running back Trent Richardson. Where Tate differs than Richardson, however, is in his running style. Tate is a downhill runner that attacks the hole quickly and avoids dancing around in the backfield. Richardson angered Browns fans and coaches alike by appearing indecisive early this season, dancing in the backfield and missing open lanes. 

From Tate's Combine Scouting Profile:

"Tate is a hard-nosed runner that does not spend much time dancing around in the backfield. He likes to stick his foot in the ground and hit the hole at the first sign of a running lane opening up. He is a downhill runner that will veer off course as he gets through the hole but is not going to make a lot of people miss once he gets through the hole unless he can just outrun them. He had been considered a bit of an underachiever in the past but came through with a big senior season to raise his status going into this draft."

Tate has amassed nearly 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his three years in the NFL, averaging 50 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. Tate has also been used in the receiving game, tallying 34 receptions for 140 yards this season. Having a back that is equally as talented in the receiving game is a must for Cleveland. The Browns, under Turner, have relied heavily on their passing game this season and are currently 1st in the NFL in passing attempts, tossing the rock 42 times per game. 

The Browns are averaging 84.9 yards per game on the ground this season. Tate has surpassed that mark on three occasions himself, all the while with four cracked ribs. Tate has five 100+ yard games in his career, three more than Trent Richardson. 

Despite being 25 years old, Tate is a low-mileage free agent. Tate has only 421 carries throughout his entire career. Compare that to Trent Richardson, who's one draft year younger but has 10 more carries in his career. Tate been primarily used in relief, as Arian Foster has been the go-to back in Houston in recent history, but has shown remarkable talent and great vision in his limited time. Tate has proven that he possesses the talent required in being an every-down back, he just requires the right opportunity. Cleveland could give him that opportunity. 

With the cap space available, it's easy to see the Browns making a serious play for Tate come March. Addressing the glaring need at running back through free agency would allow Cleveland to allocate their draft resources towards other needs, such as quarterback, interior linebacker, and cornerback.