Brandon Tate: Frontrunner for Bengals’ Final Receiver Spots?

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May 26, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate (19) during OTAs at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Tate has been the steady, ever-present receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals despite never excelling in the actual role.  Tate has a penchant for performing well during the offseason.  So well that year after year he lands on the final roster despite the seeming annual addition of talent at the position.  This is due to the fifth-year Bengal’s ability to field kicks and punts well.  In a recent piece, Geoff Hobson, the editor is Bengals.com, makes as much clear.

"“I know it’s fashionable to want to get rid of wide receiver/returner Brandon Tate, but until seventh-rounder Mario Alford or Giovani Bernard prove they can catch punts consistently, Tate is going nowhere. Say what you will about him, but one of the reasons the Bengals have been ranked 1, 12, and 2, when combining the NFL’s ten most important special teams categories the past three seasons is they don’t screw up punt returns. (And I’m not sure they want Gio getting blown up like that.)”"

Tate may be the “ugliest” player on the team, but does this bit of dirty work well.  If in fact his sure handedness contributes significantly to that type of yearly special teams performance, then it’s difficult to justify cutting him without a viable replacement.

Brandon Tate’s grip on his spot was slipping last year when Adam Jones began his campaign towards becoming an All-Pro returner in 2014.  Also presenting a challenge to Tate was receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. Although Sanzenbacher may not have proven to the team that he was as reliable as Tate, he did prove to be dynamic and capable of breaking big returns.  It wasn’t enough to remove Tate from his spot on the return team.

With regards to this year, if Bernard and rookie receiver Alford are the only challengers to Brandon Tate, then I expect him to return once more in the coming season.  Personally, I must side with Hobson regarding his thought on Bernard.  After seeing him get “trucked” by Vontae Davis last year on a short pass, it seems reasonable to expect Cincinnati will want to keep him from big hits such as the ones he’d face if he were to return punts (and kicks).

As for Mario Alford, I believe the battle comes not in the form of Brandon Tate, but rather fellow first-year Bengal Denarius Moore.  Alford and Moore are very similar players.  Both are meant to be burners who can offer Andy Dalton a viable option in the deep part of the field.  Both possess some experience as returners, but not nearly enough to challenge Tate in such a fashion.  The battle between Alford and Moore will be for the team’s sixth, and final, receiver spot.  The first five will include A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, James Wright, and, the one and only, Brandon Tate.

Brandon Tate has only been with the Bengals for five years (assuming he makes the team this year), but it sure feels longer.  The team has relied on him to competently return kicks and punts for years in order to ensure turnovers stay low and the unit remains steady.  Regardless of whether or not I or any other fan likes Brandon Tate, his presence likely remains in the coming season.

Next: Bengals Should Use Three-Back Sets in 2015

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