The Cleveland Browns threw fewer passes to their running backs in 2014 than any other team in the league, writes Rotoworld’s Evan Silva. According to data compiled by Rotoworld, the Browns’ quarterbacks targeted the team’s running backs only 48 times last year. The second-lowest total belonged to the San Francisco 49ers, with 64.
The Browns’ backs were led by Isaiah Crowell, with 14 targets, nine receptions, 87 yards and 70 yards after the catch. Terrance West had 11 catches on 13 targets, for 64 yards and one score, and 39 yards after the catch. And Ben Tate, in his short-lived tenure in Cleveland, had nine catches on 12 targets for 60 yards. Throwing to the running backs seemed to be an afterthought for then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Silva doesn’t believe this trend will continue in Cleveland in 2015, mainly because he expects rookie running back Duke Johnson to command a good deal of targets this year. Unlike West and Crowell, Johnson has extensive experience catching passes, with 65 receptions for 642 yards and four scores in his two seasons in college at Miami (FL). And running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery sees a lot of passing targets heading Johnson’s way, saying in June that, “It’s going to be all over the field. It’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, Bernard, in Cincinnati. If he can do that for us, that gives us a different perspective on how we approach the field and gives us a chance to move people around and taking advantage of a mismatch.”
Montgomery brought up the Bengals’ Giovani Bernard for a reason—in two years, Bernard has totaled 99 receptions for 863 yards and five scores to go along with his 338 carries for 1,375 yards and 10 touchdowns. If Johnson can rival Bernard’s rookie-year production, that means 71 more targets (and 59 more receptions) for the Browns’ running backs. That would give them a top-10 running back pass target total for the year. Also worth noting is that the Oakland Raiders, where DeFilippo served as quarterbacks coach from 2012 through 2014, had the second-most passes to their running backs last year, with 160. While that’s not an area of the offense that DeFilippo was responsible for, if he brings a similar philosophy about passing to running backs, we should see not just Johnson commanding a good number of targets, but also Crowell’s and West’s target totals go up as well.