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Browns offseason position analysis: Running backs

Posted Feb 12, 2016

A slow start was followed by a strong finish

Cleveland’s running backs took on a different look than was envisioned at the start of training camp after the trade of Terrance West.

It was an up and down season from that point forward, but the year ended with some optimism surrounding both of the Browns’ ball-carriers.

Here’s our breakdown.

The Raw Data

Isaiah Crowell - 16 games, 185 carries, 706 yards (3.8 ypc), 4 TDs; 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

Duke Johnson Jr. - 16 games, 104 carries, 379 yards (3.6 ypc); 61 rec., 534 yards, 2 TDs

Robert Turbin - 3 games, 18 carries, 60 yards (3.3 ypc); 2 rec., 8 yards

Shaun Draughn - 5 games, 2 carries, 10 yards (5 ypc); 2 rec., 1 yard

Glenn Winston - 3 games, 1 carry, minus-8 yards

Others on the roster

Raheem Mostert

Terrell Watson

The Rankings

Rushing offense - 95.6 yards per game - 22nd

Yards per carry - 4 yards per carry - 16th

Fumbles lost - 4 - T-8th most

Rushing TDs - 5 - T-29th

Contract talk

(According to Spotrac.com, the following players contracts will expire at the start of the new league year in March)

N/A

Who’s in charge now?

Running backs/run game coordinator - Kirby Wilson (32 years experience, 19 in NFL)

Quote to note

“(Johnson) can catch with it, he can run with it, he's a three-down back. He'll protect. He has exactly what you're looking for … When I watch Crow, I just go watch the San Francisco game. I mean, ‘are you kidding me?’ The guy played big time. What I want him to understand he's got to do that all the time. We're not looking for it some of the time. The big time backs in this league, they're able to produce all of the time. That's what my challenge would be to him. Let's take it to the next level and be that player week in and week out.” -- Hue Jackson

High Point

After a long stretch of sometimes non-existent rushing, the Browns broke out in a big way Week 14 against the 49ers. Crowell led the charge with a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns, collecting the majority of his damage on two big runs, the longest being a career-best 54 yarder. Johnson didn’t find the end zone on this day, but he chipped in with a career-high 78 yards on 13 carries. The total of 230 rushing yards was 114 better than any previous mark on the season.

Low Point

Johnny Manziel threw for a whopping 372 yards Week 10 at Pittsburgh, but the Cleveland running game provided little to no assistance in a 30-9 loss. Crowell ran for minus-5 yards on six carries while Johnson had 10 on four attempts. The Browns finished with 15 rushing yards on the day thanks largely to Manziel’s 17. The 15-yard performance came in the middle of a five-game stretch in which Cleveland failed to clear 70 rushing yards.

Surprise, Surprise

The Browns didn’t get much of a look at Johnson during the preseason because of two, separate injuries. A sore hamstring limited him through the first couple of weeks and a concussion suffered in his first preseason game put him on ice until the season opener. That slow start carried into the first two weeks of the season, but Johnson broke out with six catches Week 3 against the Raiders and followed through with that kind of impact throughout the remainder of his rookie season. He finished with the second-most receptions by a rookie in Browns history (61) and was second among all NFL rookies, trailing only Oakland’s Amari Cooper. Johnson had 165 touches for an average of 5.5 yards.

Outlook for 2016

Jackson was very optimistic when he discussed Cleveland’s situation at running back last month. His praise for Johnson, in particular, was very strong. Crowell showed what he can do during the final month of the season when the ball was placed in his hands repeatedly, no matter the situation. He also developed into a much-improved pass catcher Cleveland could rely upon. It’s a formidable, young combination with plenty of upside, but the Browns will look to get better across their entire roster, and the running back position certainly will be evaluated. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is considered to be the top running back in this year’s draft and is anticipated to be a first-round pick.

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