The late-round receiver has been one of the integral staples of the traditional Marvin Lewis draft. In 2001, the Bengals got a steal at the top of the seventh round when they snagged WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh out of Oregon State. Behind Max Montoya and Lemar Parrish, Houshmanzadeh is objectively the third-best player the Bengals have ever taken in the seventh round, and is the best seventh-round pick the franchise has made since 1994 when the seventh round was made the last round of the draft.
Two years later in 2003, Lewis arrived and the Bengals have found little to no success finding another steal in the bottom of the draft at the position, unless you want to include Marvin Jones in the mix. Tab Perry ended up being a passable kickoff returner for a few years, but players like Dezmon Briscoe, Ryan Whalen and Cobi Hamilton all have varying levels of false hype and disappointment associated with their names.
More recently, James Wright was a small bright spot, but injuries ended his time in Cincinnati abruptly. Mario Alford was supposed to challenge Brandon Tate for return-man duties but didn’t make it to year two with the team. Cody Core was supposed to emerge as a threat in his sophomore year last season based on reports from OTAs, but ended up recording 65 offensive snaps and no receptions.
Realistically, expectations for players drafted in the last two rounds should be very low if anything at all. If you get a long-term backup, that’s a success. And that should be the goal for Auden Tate.
Tate is the 12th pass-catcher drafted in the sixth round or later by the Bengals in the Marvin Lewis era, and unlike most of the ones who’ve come before, he’s rather large. Only 2008 seventh-round pick Mario Urrutia (6-5, 232 lbs) can match Tate’s large frame at 6-5, 228 lbs. Height has shown to be an important requisite for Bengals receivers, with only John Ross, Mario Alford and Jordan Shipley being the true exceptions, as they’ve all been under 6 feet. Tate is the only receiver taller than 6-4 drafted by Lewis, and that height along with his build is his best and most notable asset in his Florida State film.
Much like Kelvin Benjamin before him, Tate at his best is a jump ball machine. His immense size advantage over defensive backs and catch radius makes any pass thrown his way catchable. Back-shoulder throws like this are possible not only because of his size, but also because he makes the space needed to make an acrobatic effort at the throw, thanks to his timing when opening his hips and his ability to box out the defender just when the ball gets there.
As a vertical threat, Tate won’t blow by any corner with a second gear, but you have to play the ball better than Tate if you want to get a hand on the throw. The corner on this play seemed to get his feet caught from under him trying to turn his back, but look at how Tate plays the ball. The delayed leap would’ve given the corner no time to find his hands. When Tate snags a pass out of the air, it truly looks like a rebound the way he contorts his back to shield the reception towards his chest away from the defender. There’s a lot of grace in the way he attacks targets, and that’s what having great ball skills looks like.
Florida State’s offense was anemic last season, but Tate did his part to put points on the board. He accounted for 10 of the team’s 21 touchdowns through the air. He’s a legitimate red-zone threat with those jump ball skills and was money on short posts and slants from inside the 10-yard line.
How about fades? Yep, Tate has the timing to highpoint sideline throws and body control to land his feet in the green. This catch, along with the others I’ve gone over, showcases the flexibility in Tate’s back. His length is impressive, but he’s able to make himself a larger target in the air with the way he can seamlessly contort himself in adjusting for high throws.
Run blocking wasn’t a dominant strength of Tate’s, but his size obviously helps him out. He can get lazy and allow corners to cross his face, but his long arms give him value going up against slot defenders and linebackers when he’s motioned near the formation.
Tate is a specialized player who is an asset in certain parts of the game. With that comes limitations and shortcomings in the other areas that make a receiver. A 4.68 40-yard dash time isn’t scaring any corner in their backpedal. He comes out of his breaks relatively slow and lacks that short area explosion as a route runner. But when you look at the things he does well, it makes sense why the Bengals drafted him.
When Tyler Eifert is off the field, the Bengals’ red-zone efficiency drops dramatically. Tate is already one of the best jump ball targets on the Bengals roster next to Eifert and A.J. Green. Eifert has dominated the Bengals red-zone target share because of the size and catch radius he has. Andy Dalton trusts him because even when he doesn’t throw an accurate ball, Eifert can still make a play on it, and that’s exactly what Tate does best.
The biggest question mark is special teams. If Tate is going to make the final roster and be active on game days to be that red zone option, he would presumably play special teams primarily. Tate’s lack of straight-line speed puts him at a disadvantage being a gunner, but he’ll battle Core and Josh Malone for that responsibility. If he wins, he wins, but as of now he’s on the outside looking in.
Tate is not like the other receivers the Bengals have taken chances on late in the draft, for good and bad reasons. But his skillset might just be enough for the team to welcome another Tate wearing the number 19.