BEREA-There was a time in Browns history that the franchise was known for dominant running backs. Hall of Famers such as Marion Motley, Bobby Mitchell, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly all were some of the best to have ever played the position. Even the likes of Greg Pruitt, Mike Pruitt, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner were very productive backs—if not great—in the NFL. However, in recent years, particularly since the Browns returned, the Browns haven’t been very successful in running the football on a consistent basis.
The last Browns running back to rush for 1,000 yards was (drum roll please!) Peyton Hillis in 2010 when he rushed for 1,177 yards and, subequently thought he should be paid like Adrian Peterson.
The only other Browns to rush for over 1,000 yards since 1999 were Jamal Lewis (2007-1,304 & 2008-1,002) and Rueben Droughns (2005-1,232).
Rushing for 1,000 yards is not as difficult as it was in the early years of the NFL when teams played 12- and 14-game schedules. In a 16-game schedule, a player needs to average just over 62 yards a game to hit the mark.
The Browns averaged just over 95 yards rushing a game, finishing 22nd in the NFL. In Hue Jackson’s system in Cincinnati he employed the one- two- punch of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard and averaged over 112 yards a game good enough for 13th in the NFL in rushing offense.
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr. are the Browns likely pair to lead Jackson’s offense. Johnson was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL in the passing game and is likely to continue in that role, but it is uncertain if he can carry the load on early downs. If Jackson thinks Crowell can fill the role, the Browns likely won’t look to add a high profile running back in free agency or in the draft. If he feels he can do better, more likely in free agency or lower in the upcoming draft.
However, after Crowell and Johnson, the rest of the Browns backs are very young and unknown and a proven veteran might not be a bad idea.
Who is on the Browns Roster
Isaiah Crowell— Crowell finished his second season with the Browns with 706 yards on 185 carries (3.8 avg.) with four touchdowns. His best game was a 145-yard performance on 20 carries against the 49ers on Dec. 13, including two touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 182 yards with a score.
Duke Johnson, Jr.—Johnson had a strong rookie season and accounted for 913 all-purpose yards., which was fifth-best in the NFL among rookies. Todd Gurley led with 1,294 yards. Johnson picked up most of his yardage receiving with 61 catches for 534 yards. Johnson was second only to Oakland’s Amari Cooper among rookie receivers. Johnson’s 61 receptions were the second-best rookie mark in Browns history to Kevin Johnson’s 66 catches in 1999.Johnson had 379 yards rushing on 104 rushes (3.6 avg.) with 78 yards his best single game running the ball against the 49ers. Johnson’s best receiving game was against the Chargers when he caught nine passes for 85 yards, including a touchdown.
Glenn Winston—The Browns kept Winston on the roster for two seasons due to his potential, but did little in his opportunity. He fumbled on his first carry after losing eight yards for his only NFL carry to date. The Browns claimed Winston after the 49ers released him at the end of the preseason in 2013 after he led the 49ers in rushing.
Raheem Mostert—Claimed late in December, Mostert is primarily a kickoff returner who played for the Dolphins, Ravens and Browns in his rookie season. He played the final three games of the season for the Browns and showed some spark as a returner with a long of 53 yards. Mistreat returned 19 kickoffs for 530 yards
Malcolm Johnson—The Browns lone fullback on the roster played in 12 games with five starts before ending the season on injured reserve with a groin injury. Johnson didn’t rush the ball but did catch four passes for 15 yards after being drafted in the sixth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State.
Daryl Richardson—Richardson was signed late in the season to the active roster before being waived and then -re-signed to the practice squad. Richardson has played three years in the NFL after playing at Abilene Christian.
Terrell Watson—Watson (6-1, 243) was signed after Hue Jackson was hired as the Browns coach. Watson spent his first year in the NFL on the Bengals practice squad and Jackson saw him every day in practice. Watson played at Division II Azusa Pacific where he led all divisions in rushing his last season with 2,153 yards.
Who Could the Browns Lose
All of the running backs are under the team’s control as none of the backs qualify for free agency, either restricted or unrestricted as none have enough NFL experience. The only reason a current running back wouldn’t return in 2016 is if the Browns decide to let them go.
Is the Need: Low, Medium or High
Low to Medium - Duke Johnson has shown that he can be the third down and change of pace back. The key question is what does Hue Jackson think of Crowell. Jackson likes to use two backs as he did with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. Johnson would certainly fit the bill handling the Bernard role, but it’s unclear if he can be the first and second down back between the tackles. The biggest reason for need is the depth. After Crowell and Johnson there is very little proven depth.
Top Free Agents in Position Group
Matt Forte (Chicago)
Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)
Chris Ivory (New York Jets)
Lamar Miller (Miami)
Alfred Morris (Washington)
Top NFL Draft Prospects in Position Group
Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
Derrick Henry (Alabama)
Alex Collins (Arkansas)
Devontae Booker (Utah)
Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech)
Jordan Howard (Indiana)
The Browns have a stable of young running backs and Johnson proved he can be effective, especially in the passing game. Crowell has rushed for over 600 yards in both of his first two NFL seasons. Crowell is not flashy, but seemed to be getting better as the season progressed. The Browns could use a bell cow running back in Jackson’s system and it all depends on how the coaching staff envisions Crowell and Johnson moving forward. Keep an eye on Watson, who led the nation in rushing in 2014 with 2,153 yards. After watching him practice every day in Cincinnati, Jackson brought him to the Browns in one of the first player moves he made after becoming the Browns coach.
Follow @FredGreetham on Twitter for all Browns off-season news and information