As Hue Jackson has assessed the Browns offense in meetings with the media over the past few months, he's had no trouble expressing optimism about the future in regards to the team's running backs and tight ends.
Prompted last month about Gary Barnidge, who signed a contract extension near the end of his Pro Bowl season, Jackson called the veteran tight end a "tremendous football player."
"Guy's a Pro Bowl player this year," Jackson said. "He's on our football team and I'm looking forward to working with him. I can't wait to see a lot of these guys on April 4 and get an opportunity to share my vision for our organization with them. Again, he had a sensational season and I don't see him going backward at all. I see him even getting better and playing really well for us."
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, the young running backs who each experienced their ups and downs throughout 2015, have garnered similar optimism from Jackson, who supervised one of the best running back combinations in the NFL last season as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator.
"I'm really excited about those two young players," Jackson said. "Obviously, Duke Johnson was a draft pick a year ago who kind of burst onto the scene and had a ton of catches and made some unbelievable plays. So I'm looking forward to working with him. I think he's very talented.
"Isaiah Crowell obviously had a good year last year and I think he has the characteristics of a back that can be a big-time runner but he needs to do it very consistently and kind of in the way that we want it done, so I think he's up to the challenge. Talking to him, he's looking forward to coming and running the ball for us and I think at the same time again, those two young players you just mentioned have a bright future ahead of themselves."
Cleveland has some major pieces in place at both of these positions, but there's always room for more. With that in mind, here's what the market looks like at both positions.
According to NFL.com's Top 99 Free Agents, these are the top running backs set to hit the market. (All photos by AP Images)
Isaiah Crowell - 16 games, 185 carries, 706 yards (3.8 ypc), 4 TDs; 19 rec., 182 yards, TD
Duke Johnson - 16 games, 104 carries, 379 yards (3.6 ypc); 61 rec., 534 yards, 2 TDs
Malcolm Johnson (fullback) - 12 games, 4 receptions, 15 yards
Glenn Winston - 3 games, 1 carry, minus-8 yards
Raheem Mostert - Worked exclusively as a kick returner
Terrell Watson - Signed during offseason
2015 rankings of note
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
Top RBs available (Rankings from NFL.com's Top 99 Free Agents)
- Doug Martin, Buccaneers
- Matt Forte, Bears
- Lamar Miller, Dolphins
- Arian Foster, Texans
- Chris Ivory, Jets
- Alfred Morris, Redskins
- LeGarrette Blount, Patriots
- Bilal Powell, Jets
- Chris Johnson, Cardinals
What about the draft?
Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott drew rave reviews at the NFL Combine and is pegged by some to be selected earlier than Todd Gurley was in last year's draft. Beyond Elliott are a slew of players projected to land with teams on Days 2 and 3. Some of the more notable include: Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry of Alabama, Utah's Devontae Booker, Arkansas' Alex Collins and UCLA's Paul Perkins.
According to NFL.com's Top 99 Free Agents, these are the top tight ends about to hit the market. (All photos by AP Images)
Gary Barnidge - 16 games, 79 receptions, 1,043 yards, 9 TDs
E.J. Bibbs - 7 games, 1 reception, 7 yards
Top TEs available
- Ladarius Green, Chargers
- Antonio Gates, Chargers
- Dwayne Allen, Colts
- Coby Fleener, Colts
- Zach Miller, Bears
- Benjamin Watson, Saints
What about the draft?
Arkansas' Hunter Henry is considered the top-ranked player at his position, but it could mark a second consecutive year in which the first tight end drafted doesn't hear his name called until Day 2. The majority of tight ends projected to be drafted are slated for Day 3, but players to keep an eye on include: Stanford's Austin Hooper, Ohio State's Nick Vannett and Harvard's Ben Braunecker.