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Browns offseason analysis: Putting the RBs under the microscope


It's Day 2 of our position breakdowns, and we're moving a few paces back in the backfield.

Yesterday was the quarterbacks and today is the running backs. Check out Cleveland Browns Daily at 1 p.m. to hear even more analysis of this particular position and look out for our wide receivers review Wednesday.

The Raw Data

Terrance West - 171 carries, 673 yards (3.9 ypc), 4 TDs; 11 rec., 64 yards, TD

Isaiah Crowell - 148 carries, 607 yards (4.1 ypc), 8 TDs; 9 rec., 87 yards

Ben Tate - 106 carries, 303 yards (3.1 ypc), 4 TDs; 9 rec., 60 yards

Ray Agnew - 2 carries, 2 yards

The Rankings

Rushing offense - 108 yards per game - 17th

Yards per carry - 3.6 - T-28th

Rushing touchdowns - 17 - 4th

Fumbles - 7 - T-13th

The High Point

Though it wasn't the group's largest output of the season, it was the most efficient. In the Browns' first game after Tate's release, Crowell and West had no problem stepping up as the two-headed monster Cleveland fans desired in a comeback victory against the Falcons. Crowell averaged more than 7 yards per carry on his way to 88 yards and two touchdowns while West added 62 on 14 carries in a game that saw the Browns finish with 162 in a winning effort.

The Low Point

This wasn't the kind of response Cleveland wanted in its first game without Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. There were worse numbers than the 69 rushing yards the Browns had against the Jaguars, but there probably wasn't a more deflating performance during the first half of the season. Cleveland picked up just two first downs via rushes and averaged 2.3 yards per carry. If not for an 18-yard run by Tate and an 11-yarder from Crowell, the numbers would have been even worse. The Jaguars finished the season ranked 27th in rush defense.

Best run

This was the only run that made the cut in our top 10 plays of the year. Crowell's 26-yard touchdown run during the third quarter of Cleveland's win at Atlanta had a little bit of everything. The rookie used his eyes to identify an opening to his left, his shiftiness to evade the first set of tackles, his power to stiff-arm two defenders, his balance to remain on his feet as he briefly stumbled and his speed to beat Jonathan Massaquoi to the pylon for a touchdown.

Surprise, Surprise

The competition never stopped at running back, and that's what made it almost impossible to project who would be the team's workhorse in a given week. Tate began the season as the starter and was ultimately waived after 10 games. West was listed as inactive just a few weeks after he ran for 100 yards in his NFL debut and didn't take a snap one week before he broke out in a big way against the Ravens in Cleveland's season finale. Crowell had one carry against Oakland, none the next week against Tampa Bay and followed with double-digit attempts in the Browns' next five games. Simply put, the group's only predictable feature was its unpredictability, as coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan rode the hot hand.

Quote to Note

"There is a learning process for them, certainly with the scheme, that these guys are not familiar with. It's all learning for them. As I've said a bunch of times, you simulate it as best you can in practice, as best you can in preseason games, but there's just no substitute for it. That's hard when you want results. You want instant results, but there's also ... you don't want quick fixes. You don't want to, 'Hey, let's change because of what we know.' Let's make sure that we're building the structure to be solid for years to come." -- Pettine, Dec. 18, on the Browns' rookie running backs

Outlook for 2015

Nowhere on the roster are the Browns younger from top to bottom than they are at running back. That's becoming more and more common in the NFL at a position that already skewed young, and the Browns are leading the charge. Crowell and West each encountered their understandable ups and downs as rookies -- West, in particular, was faulted in December for his lack of consistency in games and on the practice field -- but there are reasons to be optimistic about both heading into their second season. The Browns are also high on Shaun Draughn and Glenn Winston, though neither received a carry with the team. The next crop of rookie running backs, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley, could be one of the deepest in years, and there will be no shortage of running backs available through free agency, but the Browns could very well be comfortable enough with who they have and stay pat entering OTAs. The Browns have some work to do at fullback, as Agnew was released before the season finale and was not replaced.

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