Some notable names made their way to free agency this week, when both Ben Tate and LeGarrette Blount were given their walking papers. Both have found new homes since (Tate in Minnesota, Blount in New England). Do they still have any value in fantasy football leagues? How do they affect the value of their new teammates? We explore below.
Ben Tate signs with Vikings
Ben Tate wasn’t unemployed for long, landing with the Vikings just one day after he was shown the door by the Browns. He may have gone from a playoff contender to a last-place team, but his fantasy value got a shot in the arm with his move to Minnesota.
Tate had clearly fallen out of favor in Cleveland. After signing with the team this offseason presumably to be the starting running back, he watched the team draft Terrence West and sign Isaiah Crowell after the latter went undrafted. He really never got going this year, partially because of a knee injury, and had recently fallen behind both West and Crowell on the depth chart. In each of the last two weeks, the rookies got more touches and played more snaps than him.
Tate’s fantasy value really had nowhere to go but up. He’s now part of another crowded backfield, with Jerick McKinnon the primary back and Matt Asiata holding down the goal-line role. This one, however, shapes up better for him, both in the short- and long-term.
McKinnon (back) and Asiata (concussion) are both on the injury report this week and have been limited in practice. If one or both sit this week, Tate would likely get double-digit touches. He would benefit more if McKinnon is out, as Asiata is best cast as a short-yardage back. One other factor for fantasy owners to consider is the matchup. The Vikings host the Packers, so this game could definitely get out of hand. McKinnon and Asiata are better passing-down backs than Tate, especially since he will only have a few days to learn pass protections. In fact, he likely won’t be on the field in obvious passing situations because of that.
In short, if Tate has the backfield to himself, consider him a low-end RB2 this week. If he’s sharing it with either McKinnon or Asiata, he’s no better than a low-end flex. If all three are healthy, he belongs on your bench. That will likely be the breakdown for the rest of the season, as well. In a week where all three play, consider the pecking order to go McKinnon, Tate, Asiata.
This isn’t good news for McKinnon. He had settled into the starter’s role in Minnesota though he was still ceding goal-line work to Asiata. Now he’s not only giving away those immensely valuable touches, but he’ll also have to contend with Tate taking away some of his carries in the middle of the field. McKinnon was already down in low-end RB2 territory. At this point, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as anything more than my third running back, and even then I’d be nervous about his role on my team. As for Asiata, he was a desperation fantasy back even before Tate got to Minnesota. Nothing has changed for him.
LeGarrette Blount back in New England
Blount sulked his way out of Pittsburgh last week, and that’s not usually the type of player who catches on with Bill Belichick. However, the familiarity he has with the team and coaching staff likely played a role in his signing with the Patriots earlier this week.
This acquisition doesn’t have nearly the fantasy impact of the Vikings claiming Tate. Blount had a nice late-season run with the Patriots last year, but he’s not going to carry the ball 12-to-15 times per game. In fantasy circles, the only meaningful effect might be a deleterious one on Jonas Gray’s value. I’m not entirely convinced that will be the case, however.
First, how much value did Gray really have, even after he ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns last week? The Patriots are masters at exploiting weaknesses, and the Colts’ defensive weakness is against the run. Their opponent this week, the Lions, feature a much stronger rush than pass defense. Tom Brady won’t have any problem checking to runs if the defense is giving that to him, but you can bet the Patriots are going to rely on their passing game to get a win this week. Same goes for Week 15 and 16 when they take on the Dolphins and Jets, respectively.
Gray has value simply by virtue of being the lead power back in an offense that is averaging 40.5 points per game on its current six-game winning streak. We talk a lot about environment here, and you want to be invested in an offense that makes scoring 40 points look like the easiest thing to do on an NFL field.
Unfortunately, the Belichick-led Patriots have never been predictable when it comes to their running backs, and that hasn’t changed one bit this year. That Blount’s skillset overlaps with Gray’s cannot be a good thing for the Notre Dame product, but you were already in trouble if you were counting on Gray to be an every-week starter for you. He can, however, still be someone you plug into your lineup with the right matchups.
Finally, Blount shouldn’t have much impact on Shane Vereen. He has had more than 10 carries just once this year. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of room to decrease there. If you’re starting Vereen, you’re betting on his production as a receiver, not a runner. Blount won’t eat into his targets, as he’s a pure north-south runner, and not much of a receiver. There may be another mouth to feed in the New England backfield, but it doesn’t eat the same way Vereen does.