Ben Tate Waived: What Will the Cleveland Browns' Backfield Look Like Moving Forward?

The Browns waived Ben Tate, making their backfield situation a lot less murky.

Six weeks ago, Ben Tate was the Cleveland Browns starting running back. After missing time to start the year, Tate returned from injury against the Tennessee Titans in Week 5, and had 22 of the 35 total carries by Browns running backs, running for 124 yards. And against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6, Tate had 25 of the Browns' 37 running back totes, good for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns.

But it's been all downhill from there. And earlier today, the Browns waived Tate, making him a free agent.

Since Week 6, Tate has had 53 carries for just 90 yards - a little more than half a yard per carry - and 2 touchdowns. Tate led the Browns in carries against the Jaguars and Raiders in Weeks 7 and 8, but after gaining just 62 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in those two games, he lost the starting gig in the Cleveland backfield. Since, the Browns backfield has been a timeshare between Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.

Over the past three games, Tate's had just 22 carries - just 23.4 percent of the overall workload - for only 28 yards.

For the season, Tate's rushed for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns on 106 carries, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. West has 112 carries for 408 yards, a 3.6 per carry average, and 3 touchdowns, while Crowell has rushed for 358 yards on 78 carries, a 4.6 yard average, and 5 touchdowns.

What happened?

Tate's Regression

After a Week 5 win over the Titans, the Browns and their rushing attack were riding high. They ranked among the top 10 best rushing attacks in the league, and all three backs were playing well. In terms of numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, all three runners were among the top 30 rushers in the league. Here's a look at how the backs looked through Week 5.

Rushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate
Ben Tate7.880.2860.71%
Isaiah Crowell6.500.2048.48%
Terrance West5.850.1142.59%

At that point in the season, Ben Tate was among the top five rushers with 20 to 50 carries in Rushing NEP, Rushing NEP per play, and Success Rate. He was the best of three excellent backs, and looked to be on his way to a great season, barring another injury. But against the Steelers in Week 6, center Alex Mack broke his leg, and his injury has seemingly decimated the Browns rushing attack. In Week 6, numberFire metrics ranked them as the 7th-best rushing attack in the NFL.

Now, as you can see below, they're not nearly as good, ranking 23rd.

Rushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate
Ben Tate -11.31-0.1134.91%
Isaiah Crowell-0.95-0.0148.10%
Terrance West 1.270.0140.18%

Since Week 6, the Browns rushing attack has seen a huge drop off, and Ben Tate has bore the brunt of it. Between Week 5 and Week 12, his Rushing NEP has dropped 19.19 points. He's been absolutely atrocious for the Browns, and while it's not all his fault, West and Crowell have been better backs. And Tate lost time because of it.

And after publicly complaining last week about his lack of carries, Tate hit the end of the road. His lack of production and his unhappiness with his role in Cleveland led to the Browns waiving him. They had two running backs who were playing better on their roster, both of whom are younger and more durable than Tate. After a great start in Cleveland, Tate outlived his welcome, and his production didn't warrant a roster spot anymore.

Further, with the Browns decimated with injuries on defense (Karlos Dansby will miss significant time, Jabaal Sheard is likely done for the year and Phil Taylor was recently placed on injured reserve), and with Josh Gordon returning from suspension, the Browns need all the roster spots they can get. There was a no need to keep a disgruntled running back who wasn't producing.

Going Forward

With a very team-friendly contract, Ben Tate is bound to be claimed on waivers or sign elsewhere. With Ahmad Bradshaw's injury, the Indianapolis Colts are a team that has been floated around as a possible destination for Tate. The Ravens could be interested as well, as Gary Kubiak was Tate's coach in Houston.

Whatever team signs Tate, don't expect much production from him the rest of this year. While Tate performed well for the Browns when Alex Mack was healthy, having to learn a new playbook and possibly being part of a timeshare will hamper his production. He should see some carries, but not enough to be viable back in fantasy football.

As for the Browns' backfield: with Tate gone, the situation is a lot less murky, as Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell should split carries. And with Josh Gordon back in the fold, the Browns offense should open up more giving both West and Crowell room to run. However, without Alex Mack and fairly inconsistent quarterback play, both running backs will be very inconsistent on a week to week basis, depending on the defense they're facing. The Browns play three of the worst run defenses over the next five weeks in the Falcons, Colts and Bengals, so both West and Crowell have some value going forward.