There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about Ben Tate not being an elite running back. The reason for this has nothing to do with his statistics or ability on the field to follow his blocks and make people miss consistently. It is all about the injuries. Has Ben Tate dealt with nagging injuries throughout his NFL career? Of course and there is no denying it, but he was also never injured in his college career. If you look at it realistically the exception to the rule is a running back who lasts all 16 games of the season without issues. So let’s run down a list of top tier RBs and their serious or nagging injuries (or lack thereof):
Adrian Peterson: Season ending knee injury in 2011. It happened in week 12 so he missed only 4 whole games. If this happened week 2, done for the year.
Matt Forte: Knee injury in 2011, constant ankle problems during the 2012 season.
Jamal Charles: Season ending knee injury in 2011.
Reggie Bush: Only played 2 full seasons since coming into the NFL in 2006.
DeMarco Murray: Constantly injured and has yet to play a full season since coming into the NFL in 2011.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Missed almost entire 2012 season, but otherwise has been relatively healthy.
Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy: Have stayed relatively healthy throughout their careers and have only missed a few games here and there.
There are a couple players I wanted to mention outside of the basic list. One of these is 49ers running back Frank Gore and the other is Ben Tate’s former running mate Arian Foster.
Frank Gore is a perfect example of a player that almost anyone would consider injury prone coming into the NFL. He tore the ACL in his left knee during the spring (not even in a live game) before his sophomore year and then tore the ACL in his right knee during his junior year. Since then all he has done is shouldered the load of the 49ers running game for the last 9 years without missing any significant time. Lesson to be learned: a player’s luck can change.
Arian Foster has had 3 Pro-Bowl caliber years, and 2 seasons where he couldn’t even get through half the games since coming into the NFL. I don’t think there is a single person that follows the NFL that wouldn’t consider Arian Foster an elite running back. Now I am not saying that Tate is Arian Foster, but like Foster, when he is on the field, he puts up elite running back numbers. In fact, Tate has a higher yards per carry average in his NFL career than Foster. So is Ben Tate an elite running back? Looking at it statistically, the answer is yes. Time will tell as to whether or not Ben Tate is elite, but having a contract that is heavily performance based is a perfect way to see what he is capable of. The bottom line is it is simply unfair to group elite running back status with the overused and misunderstood term “injury prone.”