A cluster of Bengals fans found themselves attached to Auden Tate last offseason. The videos of him making jump ball catches look easy in training camp made that easy.
It was enough for him to initially make the 53-man roster, but he rarely saw the field, especially on offense. After spending time on the practice squad, he eventually made his way onto the field due to a number of injuries at the wide receiver position. He didn’t have a stand out moment offensively during the 2018 regular season though.
Can Tate’s Sophomore season under Zac Taylor prove to be more productive, or will he be another practice squad player on the short list for a call up to the roster?
Weight: 228 lbs
College: Florida State
Hometown: Irmo, SC
Experience: Entering his second season
Tate is entering the second year of his three-year rookie contract. He is set to make $570,000 in base salary and carry the same amount as his 2019 cap hit, according to Spotrac. Tate is set to become a restricted free agent during the 2021 offseason.
Tate entered the NFL draft following his 2017 Junior season at Florida State when he had 957 receiving yards on 65 receptions with 16 touchdowns. He was known as a huge red zone threat, in fact, only one of his touchdowns came from outside of the red zone.
The Bengals scooped Tate up in the seventh round in last year’s draft. A huge knock on Tate was his speed, and teams had concerns over his ability to create separation at the NFL level. These are valid concerns, but what makes Tate an interesting prospect is his ability to get the ball at its highest point and make contested catches. That makes him an ideal red zone threat.
2018 was a learning experience more than anything for Tate. He learned that the life of a receiver low on the roster is about way more than what you can do while you’re out there on offense. He learned that his path to sticking on this roster relies more on his ability to contribute as a special teamer than anything else.
This season could be an interesting one. The way Tate is used if any could say a lot about the difference between this coaching staff and the one led by Marvin Lewis last season. Tate rarely saw the field in 2018, even when injuries did pile up at the position. It also appeared pretty clear that the team had more confidence in Cody Core throughout the 2018 season. For comparison, Core had 310 snaps compared to Tate’s 77.
One thing that does need to be made clear is that Tate is a niche wide receiver, and he won’t be used on a high volume basis, especially with so many talented receivers ahead of him on the depth chart. Where Tate has value is as a red zone receiver.
Coaches have already talked about with how impressive he looks in the red zone during OTAs. Tate could see some snaps that allows him to lineup either in a slot position or on the perimeter, which would open up the ability to line A.J. Green up in the slot. This obviously isn’t as dangerous when Tate’s size doesn’t pose as much of a threat as it does while he is in the red zone, but it is still greatly valuable to have for a team that has had issues in that area for a few seasons.
The odds of Tate making the active roster are pretty good. After Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Alex Erickson, there seems to be at least two open spots for wide receivers. Tate’s biggest competition includes Core and former fourth-round pick Josh Malone. Malone had probably the most disappointing season for a wide receiver last year. He only played 68 snaps, and unless he impresses the new offensive coaches, he could be a quick cut.
It seems like the bigger question is if Core can get these new coaches to see whatever the last coaching staff saw in him that seemed to keep him ahead of guys like Tate and Malone. The Bengals signed a few talented undrafted free agent wide receivers as well, which is led by Stanley Morgan Jr.. The possibility of one of them making the active roster isn’t ridiculous given the Zac Taylor installing anew offense and wanting to develop some young players.
Tate’s improvement in special teams will really determine if he is able to easily find his way on to the active roster or not. It is something that coaches have even said they aren’t as worried about him finding a fit in that phase.
One place Tate has extra value is the ability to play Tyler Eifert’s role in the red zone. Tate will never be an inline tight end, but Eifert is used more like a match up nightmare playing a wide receiver spot. Tate could easily slide in that role in the event Eifert suffers another unfortunate injury.
Another thing that could help Tate is Green will likely miss all of the preseason with his ankle injury, so that’s more reps for Tate to get in practice. The injury may also lead to the Bengals using an extra roster spot on a receiver, which would make it even easier for Tate to make the 53-man roster.
At worst, Tate ends up on the practice squad, and he would be a quick call up to the active roster in the event of an injury. That is hard to reflect in “roster” odds. The biggest thing is to expect Tate to be with the Bengals in some capacity during the 2019 season. Hopefully we see him used a little bit more as a mismatch in the red zone this season.
Roster odds: 60%