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2018 free agency: Browns can fortify backfield with deep group of RBs

Posted Mar 8, 2018

Cleveland could add a veteran with Isaiah Crowell due to become a free agent

With what general manager John Dorsey has described as a pivotal offseason, the Browns are positioned to add another running back to pair with the dynamic Duke Johnson Jr., who’s coming off a breakout season in 2017.

With Isaiah Crowell due to become a free agent, Cleveland can address the position in less than a week when free agency opens Wednesday, and it'll have plenty of options.

Over the next week, we’ll be breaking down each position group as we count down the days until the start of the new league year. Though not as valuable as quarterback, we’ve seen how running backs — Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon to name a few — have helped transform their respective offenses in recent years.

Who’s back?

Duke Johnson Jr.:16 games; 82 carries, 348 yards, 4 TDs; 74 catches, 693 yards, 3 TDs

Matthew Dayes: 16 games; 5 carries, 13 yards; 4 catches, 29 yards; 18 kick returns, 437 yards

Darius Jackson: (did not play in 2017)

Josh Rounds: (did not play in 2017)

Kelvin Taylor: (did not play in 2017)

Hitting the market

Isaiah Crowell: 16 games; 206 carries, 853 yards, 2 TDs; 28 catches, 182 yards

Top RBs available (Rankings from NFL.com’s Top 101 free agents)

19. Carlos Hyde, 49ers

The former Ohio State star has posted at least 900 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons with the 49ers. A big (6-foot, 235 pounds) and strong runner who can run between the tackles, he’s also demonstrated ability as a receiver, catching 59 passes for 350 yards last year.

26. Dion Lewis, Patriots

Lewis, who split touches in New England’s committee of running backs, posted a career-best 896 rushing yards and 214 receiving yards to go along with nine total touchdowns.

50. Jerick McKinnon, Vikings

When rookie and starting running back Dalvin Cook went down, McKinnon emerged as something as a pleasant surprise for the Vikings, running for 570 yards and catching 51 passes for 421 yards.

67. Crowell

70. Rex Burkhead, Patriots

In his first season with the Patriots, Burkhead gave New England a change of pace from fellow running backs Lewis and James White, totaling 94 touches for 518 yards.

81. Jeremy Hill, Bengals

Hill, who had success under then-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, missed all but seven games last season with an ankle injury. In his previous three years in CIncinnati, he totaled 2,757 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns.

85. Doug Martin, Buccaneers

Suspended for the first four games of the season, Martin finished with 138 carries for 406 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. He was released Feb. 20 after six seasons in Tampa, totaling 4,663 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground during that span.

89. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles

While he lost carries to Jay Ajayi midseason, Blount played a big role during the Eagles’ Super Bowl campaign, running for 765 yards and two touchdowns. The bruising back is entering his 10th NFL season following one year in Philadelphia and the previous three with New England.

91. Darren Sproles, Eagles

The veteran scat back missed most of last season, suffering a torn ACL and broken arm on the same play in a game against the Giants.

96. Frank Gore, Colts

At 34 years old, Gore remains one of the league’s most-productive runners, totaling 961 yards last season with the Colts. In 13 years, he’s amassed 14,026 yards rushing and 80 touchdowns.

Honorable mention: Jonathan Stewart, Alfred Morris, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Orleans Darkwa,

What about the draft?

The Browns, owners of the first and fourth overall picks, could use one of those picks to select Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who’s widely viewed as the best overall player in this year’s draft class. Cleveland will also have options on Day 2 with what’s considered a deep and talented class of runners such as LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones II and Georgia backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

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