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Browns 2017 positional recaps: Duke Johnson a bright spot in frustrating season

Posted Jan 19, 2018

Johnson emerged as go-to weapon in the pass game; ground game went through ups and downs

​Breaking down the Browns' 2017 season, position by position. Today we’re looking at Cleveland’s running backs.  

By the numbers:

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

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

Danny Vitale — 15 games, 6 starts; 3 catches, 19 yards

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

How was 2017? Before the start of the season, the Browns expressed a re-commitment to a run game poised to shine in 2017. After all, Cleveland fortified its offensive line in free agency with the additions of right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter, while the duo of Isaiah Crowell and the dynamic Duke Johnson Jr. had promising seasons in 2016. Instead, the Browns went through a series of highs and lows on the ground — partly the result of falling behind early in multiple games. In the end, the Browns averaged 107 rushing yards (18th-best in the NFL) and put together some of their best showings in the second half of the season (at Detroit, at Cincinnati and against Green Bay).

Reasons to be optimistic? Duke Johnson. The third-year running back from Miami was Cleveland’s top offensive playmaker as the rest of the unit struggled throughout the season. Johnson combined for 1,041 all-purpose yards, led the team in receiving and became the first running back since Herschel Walker to record 500 yards receiving in his first three NFL seasons. Johnson, a third-round pick in 2015, should continue that production next year.

What might happen this offseason? Johnson, rookie Matthew Dayes and fullback Danny Vitale will be back in 2018 while Crowell is due to become a free agent this spring. Crowell finished with 206 carries for 853 yards after nearly reaching 1,000-yard mark the year before. The Browns, equipped with the first and fourth overall picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, will also surely take a close look at Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley, who’s widely viewed as one of the class’ best players. Other prospects such as LSU’s Derrius Guice and Georgia’s Sony Michel could provide intriguing options on Day 2. 

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