Considering the fact that they had over a dozen selections in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns could have made sure to address every position on the roster if they so chose. They likely came pretty close to doing so, although they quadruple-dipped at wide receiver in a way that would have made George Costanza beam with pride. One of the positions that they overlooked was at running back.
This was in spite of the fact that they had a host of draft picks available to them right at the sweet spot of the draft for the running back class, with eight draft picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. Nine running backs were drafted within that span of time in the draft.
The reason for this, at least as it appeared after the draft, is because the Browns and head coach Hue Jackson believe quite strongly in the two-back tandem that they already have in place in 2015 second-round draft pick Duke Johnson and 2014 undrafted free agent signing Isaiah Crowell.
The two backs split starting time nearly evenly, though the team leaned more heavily on Crowell, particularly earlier in the season. Crowell logged 185 carries, while the rookie Johnson saw 104 carries, though he also had 61 receptions to Crowell’s 19, bringing more balance to their shared workload.
In spite of the fact that neither running back successfully managed to average at least four yards per rushing attempt last year—and it is worth pointing out that Le’Veon Bell failed to accomplish that in his rookie season as well—Jackson expressed optimism for the backs that he was inheriting.
After the draft, the Browns’ latest head coach told reporters that he believes the team has “some really good players” at the running back position, going so far as to describe the duo of Johnson and Crowell as “as good as I’ve seen in a while”.
“Their talent is extreme”, he said. But one might have to pause and consider the sales pitch that the new head coach is making, considering where he came from in Cincinnati, with one of the best offenses in football and a strong one-two combination in their own right. He also got a first-hand look at Bell and DeAngelo Williams last year. That’s some stiff competition right inside the AFC North.
The Browns didn’t even add a running back as an undrafted free agent after the draft, and in fact have only five currently on the roster, including Raheem Mostert, whom they claimed off waivers mid-season last year from the Ravens. He participated on special teams. Also on the roster is Glenn Winston, who carried once for an eight-yard loss and a fumble after being claimed off waivers before the start of the regular season.
Jackson and the Browns are counting on Johnson and Crowell to be able to bear the brunt of the running game this year, as they did last year, but they will be doing so as the passing game is once again in transition with a new quarterback and a host of new wide receivers. That seems like a lot of pressure, but it’s a good thing, then, that they are as good as Jackson has seen in a while, because they are all he will be seeing.