The Buccaneers' Lost Treasure: Cam We Stop the Brate Hate, Please?
In the NFL and fantasy football, there always seems to be a few guys who are highly underrated and under-drafted in dynasty startups and redraft leagues. Usually, it revolves around a long-shot guy who started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent and doesn’t profile as the prototypical athlete at his position. Some of these guys, include: Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, Doug Baldwin, and Adam Thielen. All of which have had successful years with many people not believing in their talent until they repeated spectacular performances year-in and year-out. I believe the same is true with Cameron Brate – an unpopular opinion, but it needs to be said by someone.
Reader: “Wha-wha-what!?!?!?!” Yeah, that’s right. I know that O.J. Howard was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1st round pick (19th overall) in the 2017 NFL draft. But, I also know that Cameron Brate is a more talented receiving threat than O.J…which generally scores more fantasy points than a TE’s elite blocking ability. Before you tune me out and make allegations that I belong in the “looney bin”, just here me out as I breakdown this unpopular take. Then maybe, Cameron Brate will be THE SLEEPER that allows you to win your fantasy leagues this year and stack your dynasty rosters for the future.
The New Contract:
Recently, Cameron Brate signed a 6-year $41-million contract with the Bucs with $7 million guaranteed upon his signing this year. There is an additional $11 million guaranteed for injury pending his status on the 5th day of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. So, while this is a great deal for a formerly undrafted TE, Tampa Bay can get out from under his contract sooner rather than later, if they choose to do so. The contract is structured rather evenly throughout the years (hovering between $6-$7.5 million), but strikes me as a, “we know what you can do, and you deserve a decent salary”-type of contract; however, if O.J. learns to thrive as a receiver, then the Bucs may cut him. I know that sounds scary for a Brate owner, but it shouldn’t and here’s why. He’s still the 13th highest paid TE (on an average salary basis) and will garner plenty of attention throughout the league if the Bucs release him. Not many TEs have the receiving chops that Brate has and he could easily serve a quality role on TE-needy teams, including: the Raiders, Texans, Lions, Cowboys (who lost Witten), Patriots (post-Gronk), Vikings (if they let Rudolph go for a cheaper option with all of these long-term offseason contract signings), and many more. Many of these teams have been known to historically use TEs well or could benefit from the additional receiving options in a high-powered offense. In my opinion, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate complement each other well and the team could benefit from both of their talents in 12-personnel packages (2 TEs, 1 RB, 2 WRs).
Athleticism and Talent:
Let’s start talking the counter-argument and discuss the athletic ability and talent of O.J. Howard. After the 2017 NFL draft, many draft experts were surprised with O.J.’s drop in the draft when he was finally selected at 19 overall. This 23-year-old, 2nd-year Alabama product has an ELITE combination of size and speed – standing at 6’6”, weighing 251 lb., and clocking in a 4.51-sec. 40-yd dash at the NFL combine. Not to mention, his studly 22 reps on the bench press and 6.85-sec 3-cone drill performance is nothing to ignore for this big man. However, while his immense athleticism begs intrigue from fantasy owners on his potential to be a top offensive TE weapon, his run-blocking talents are really what has offensive coordinators drooling. In fact, this is why he out-snapped Cameron Brate last season – as most of his snaps were in-line and not out as a slot receiver.
Alright, alright, it’s Cameron’s turn...Crap! I’m not going to lie to you guys, I cannot gush over Cameron Brate’s raw athleticism. At 245 lb. and 6’5”, this 27-year-old undrafted Harvard product put up a sluggish 4.77-sec 40-yd dash at his pro day, yet he put up a solid 24 reps on the bench press. He’s not as fast as O.J. and he’s not as big as O.J., but his ability to move the chains and work the middle of the field says it all.
Tape and Statistics:
Cameron is going on his 5th season and didn’t really make a name for himself until Austin Seferian-Jenkins got released from the Bucs in 2016 (due to a DUI). However, when that opportunity presented itself, Brate didn’t take it for granted as he found his way on all fantasy owners’ radars, putting up a 660 receiving yards and 8 TDs on 57 receptions in 2016 (7th TE in PPR). The Bucs’ 2017 1st-round draft pick put question marks around Brate’s future performance; however, he still managed to gain 591 yds on 48 receptions for 6 TDs (10th TE in PPR). While O.J. out-snapped Cameron, he only put up 432-yds on 26 receptions with 6 TD (20th TE in PPR). This makes sense, as his higher snap count is primarily due to his ELITE talent as a run-blocker.
Let’s move on from the stats now. What you really need to understand about Cameron Brate is that his performance on tape clearly pegs him as a better receiving option than Howard. Cameron generally lines up more as a receiver than in-line compared to O.J. for good reason. He’s got excellent concentration and strong hands to fight through contact and haul in difficult catches. As a route-runner, he finds his way open, with flashes of decent salesmanship to break free from defenders. Winston trusts him for a reason – Brate will adjust to the throw and make a big play on the ball (something Jameis needs from his receivers). One example of this dates back to Week 15 in 2016 versus the Boys. Cameron was able to fight through Sean Lee’s coverage and make a leaping grab with a fully extended body and arms in the middle of the field. Cameron is a big man and knows how to use his size to his advantage by boxing-out defenders.
Meanwhile, O.J. Howard put up 28% of his yards (121-yds) and 50% of his TDs (3) on three plays where the defense failed to cover him. That’s not something you want to rely on for consistent fantasy points and this type of production is the epitome of volatility at the TE position. Additionally, O.J.’s route-tree is rather limited – with mostly flats, screens, streaks, and posts (where he uses his body to gain leverage). Meanwhile, Cameron Brate’s more polished route-tree allows him to see a better target share with no less than 77 in the last 2 seasons – not great, but respectable. This is fantastic relative to O.J.’s measly 39-target season in 2017. This isn’t Howard’s fault, though – his job is to primarily be a blocker with some occasional air-yard production. Cameron’s role is the man that will get you out of a sticky 3rd-down situation and snag 7 yds OR be the guy to find his way open as the field continues to shrink near the end zones.
These two are not fighting for the same job or role. They are well-defined and quite complementary. If the Bucs use more 12-personnel packages, not only will their run game benefit, but so will the entire offense. Additionally, Cameron Brate’s price tag in dynasty is dirt cheap – with an ADP of 189, relative to O.J. Howard’s 108 ADP, per DynastyFFTools.com (accessed: 8/26/2018). If you have yet to draft in a dynasty startup or redraft league, this is a guy I recommend targeting. He will likely get you TE1 numbers and allow you to use your earlier draft picks to stockpile on more RBs and WRs, instead (the positions that truly win championships). If you’ve already drafted, that’s okay. I recommend a TE-needy team to pursue Brate through trade, as it shouldn’t cost you more than a 2nd round rookie pick (so long as you are in a situation to compete). A recent Twitter poll suggests that he can be had for as low as a 3rd round rookie pick by some fantasy owners. My biggest complaint with the market value of Brate his dynasty ranking of TE23 (on average), relative to O.J.’s TE7 (per FantasyPros.com’s collective expert rankings; accessed: 8/25/2016). This is an insult to Cameron and an opportunity to exploit. Finally, O.J. is too costly for a man whose skillset is primarily as a blocker and not a receiver. Investing in O.J. at his market value right now is committing to the “waiting game” and hoping that his elite size and speed combination on paper, finally develops into production on the field. I recommend remaining frugal and drafting/buying a TE with the highest upside (relative to his cost) and go get Cameron Brate on the cheap.