At the beginning of last season, it looked like the Cleveland Browns were stuck with a dud for a former first-round pick in Trent Richardson. Unfathomably, the Indianapolis Colts bailed Cleveland out, forking over a first-round pick for Richardson, which basically ended up being used to get Johnny Manziel.
Cleveland had very little depth at running back in 2013, which is why they re-tooled the position during the 2014 offseason. Today's training camp preview of the running back position takes a look at veteran Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West.
1. BEN TATE - STARTING RUNNING BACK
I was a fan of Ben Tate when he was with the Houston Texans, particularly early on. How could you not be? As a backup in 2011, Tate ran for 942 yards and a 5.4 YPC average. That season included an 12-carry, 115-yard effort against the Browns.
When it came to my fantasy football leagues in 2012 and 2013, I drafted Tate relatively high, thinking that if Arian Foster ever went down, I'd have one of the best backs in football. When Foster was hurt at the end of 2013, Tate started the final 6 games, a stretch in which he ran for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns on a perfect 4.0 YPC average.
It was only a matter of time before he became a free agent and earned the big bucks. The rumors about Tate landing in Cleveland started immediately after the Browns dealt Richardson in 2013 (and that was when Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi were still in charge). For as much of a fan as I was of Tate's talent, I wasn't too high on the Browns signing him. He has shown to be a bit injury prone over the past two seasons, and I thought he'd command a ridiculous salary as the top running back on the market.
My opinion of Tate being the team's starting back became high again when he was revealed the team scored him on a 2-year, $6.1 million deal. That's a bargain and exactly how teams should spend on the position, given the short shelf life these backs have. Tate comes from a zone-blocking system that should translate well to what Kyle Shanahan is trying to install in Cleveland. Tate hasn't been a big-time receiving back in the NFL, but he can catch the ball well enough.
In terms of attitude, Tate has endeared himself to fans on Twitter, but also isn't afraid to speak his mind to make sure he's not relinquishing the starting role. He carries a chip on his shoulder -- he's said that Foster was the best running back in the league, and insinuated that he's not going to let anyone or anything step in his way from showing that he is just as capable in a starting role.
Job Security: A-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. TERRANCE WEST - BACKUP RUNNING BACK
The Browns jumped ahead of the Baltimore Ravens and selected Terrance West with the No. 94 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Despite being a third-round pick, through the team's offseason programs thus far, it seems as though the team is already positioning West to be the backup running back to Tate.
That would put West ahead of guys like Chris Ogbonnaya, Dion Lewis, and Edwin Baker without having played a single down in the NFL. Not to knock those guys down, but I think it's a testament to just how much the team plans on using West this year -- yes, they want him to "earn" a role, but they also envision him contributing immediately.
Earlier, I said that Tate has suffered a string of injuries throughout his career, and he's also never handled the load for a full season. While I do think the team wants to give Tate the respect of getting starter-level reps, West will get his fair share of carries as well. West was a workhorse at the college level; during his junior season in 2013, he finished with an FCS-record 2,509 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns.
West displays good power as a runner and is quick and patient enough to work in Kyle Shanahan's offense. He is not a burner when it comes to speed, and don't expect him to sprint to the outside to outrun a defense. West didn't see a lot of work as a receiver at Towson, so that's something that might go to the third running back -- perhaps an Ogbonnaya, Lewis, or Barker. West rarely left the field, though, so he was trusted with his blocking assignments and fared well in that department too.
If West struggles, there's a chance that he loses the backup role to somebody else...but the odds are in his favor that he is Tate's direct backup and/or complement.
Job Security: B-
Final Roster Odds: 100%
Vote in the poll below for how you see things unfolding between Tate and West this year. Tomorrow, we'll go over the other running backs on the roster before moving on to the fullback position.