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Fantasy Film Study: Examining the Browns' backfield

Change is hard. Take Michael Bay and his cash-cow Transformers series for example. Those films refuse to change their formula and continue to regress in quality. Yet, I suppose if it's going to make a bajillion dollars, why try and make it any better?

When it comes to football, the Cleveland Browns were on a Transformers-esque streak of mediocrity (both on the field and in fantasy football), yet without hundreds of millions of dollars coming in despite their lackluster product. However, they've been working hard to change that perception. After five straight seasons without multiple top-10 fantasy finishers, they had two last season (Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon). Now, with the additions of Johnny Manziel, Ben Tate and Terrance West, the Browns could be looking to become fantasy-relevant for consecutive seasons for the first time since Bernie Kosar was slinging the rock and your dad was physically mailing out the fantasy scores and weekly totals to his league. Yes, with stamps and everything.

So, rather than add to the Manziel Media Hype-machine, I took to Game Rewind and wherever I could scrounge up Terrance West tape to try and deduce what might be in store for the Browns' backfield in 2014.

Ben Tate -- The First Cut is the Deepest

For an in-depth (and non-fantasy) look at Ben Tate, check out Marc Sessler's excellent piece from earlier this week. I'll paraphrase Marc's astute observations here, as well as add in my own after watching Tate's film.

The best part about Tate's situation is that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme is perfectly suited for Tate's running style. Alfred Morris made a killing under Shanahan using his vision and quick decision making to exploit the zone-blocking scheme and get up field in a hurry. Watch as Tate does just that against the Oakland Raiders below.

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Tate has a nice combination of size and speed, as he's able to shuck arm tackles and stretch plays to the sideline if nothing opens up. He's not as fluid as Arian Foster once he gets to the second-level, but Tate has put excellent cutting ability on tape, and does well to turn open holes into solid gains.

He flashed decent hands last season, catching 34 of his 42 targets (81 percent). However, he did not show much else once the ball was in his hands. Tate was last in the league in yards per reception (4.1) and second to last in yards after catch per recetpion (5.0, trailing only BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who caught all of four passes in 2013) according to Pro Football Focus.

Tate will likely nab a handful of receptions, but don't expect him (or West) to rack up the YAC. Working against Tate's fantasy potential is the fact that Shanahan has never relied on his running backs in the passing attack, particularly when he has a mobile quarterback (as he will with Manziel). While in Washington with Robert Griffin III running the show, Shanahan's backs caught only 14 percent of the team's passes in 2012, and 13 percent in 2013. For the sake of comparison, Matt Forte caught 20 percent of the Chicago Bears' receptions last season.

Fantasy impact: A complete back with much to prove, Tate will be motivated to show he deserves a bigger contract (and more recognition) than he received when he signed with the Browns. Tate should thrive in Shanahan's scheme, especially when opponents have to respect the threat of Manziel as a runner. His ceiling is relatively low though, as fewer receptions and a likely timeshare with West (even if it's skewed in Tate's favor) will mean less opportunities and thus less fantasy points. He figures to be right in the middle of the RB2 herd all season long.

Terrance West -- Small school, big aspirations

Playing his college ball at the relatively unheralded Towson University, Terrance West wasn't the flashiest running back name in the 2014 NFL Draft class. However, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, Charlie Casserly and Adam Rank have all been touting West's ability and potential, and after diving into his college tape, I'm starting to ignore Chuck D's advice and am beginning to believe the hype.

West is a big man in a compact frame, clocking in at 5-foot-9 and roughly 230 pounts. Yet, in spite of that size he has surprisingly quick feet, or "dancer-type feet" if you asked head coach Mike Pettine. West excels at making one-cut and getting up field like Tate, and packs even a little bit more of a tackle-breaking punch in the second level. He has great balance as well, and is able to spin off contact without losing momentum. Check out this video from the great Draft Breakdown to see both of these traits as West helps put the University of Connecticut on ice in Towson's upset win last season.

The main knock against West is that he too often carries the ball away from his body, leading to five fumbles in his junior season. NFL defenses will prey on that running style if West doesn't correct it during the rest of the offseason. West has a great chance to make an impact as a rookie, but if he fumbles early on he might be hearing "high and tight" a lot more often than his number being called off the bench.

Fantasy impact: West has designs on contributing to the Browns offense this season, and pending a case of fumblitis he definitely should. He's a speedy, poweful back with solid receiving skills. He's likely going to be a fantasy star in the near future. The question of how soon though will drive fantasy owners crazy in 2014. Due to that fact, West represents more of a luxury depth pick in fantasy this fall, or a great handcuff to Tate.


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Conclusion

Pettine has stated that he believes a running back by committee approach is required in the AFC North, which means Tate, West and maybe even Dion Lewis or Chris Ogbonnaya will see touches this season. Tate still figures to be the lead dog, and West is the odds on favorite for the secondary punch in that rushing attack. Even though both backs can catch the ball well, neither figures to be a huge contributor in the passing attack unless Shanahan schemes to use them more as outlets for his young signal-caller (or Bryan Hoyer).

After watching tape on both Tate and West, I'm very intrigued to see this battle play out during training camp and the preseason. The Browns boast a talented offensive line, and with Manziel under center (let's not kid ourselves) these backs could eat and rack up some solid fantasy numbers. Over the last two seasons, Washington ranked seventh in rushing attempts, and that figure likely would have been higher had they not been so woefully behind so quickly in a number of contests last season. With Shanahan calling the plays, the Browns are going to pound the rock. We'll just have to wait and see which of their backs gets handed the hammer once Week 1 rolls around.

-- Alex Gelhar writes features and fantasy pieces for the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @Alex Gelhar, and be sure to check out the Top 20 Games of 2013 series.

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