The offseason has arrived, and it figures to be a busy one in Cleveland as the Browns evaluate the highs and lows of the 2021 season. We're doing some evaluations, too, by taking a thorough look at how each position fared throughout the year.
Next up: the running backs
The Raw Numbers
Rushing yards per game - 145.4 (4th in NFL)
Rushing attempts - 520 (28th in NFL)
Nick Chubb: 14 games, 228 carries, 1,259 yards, 8 TDs; 20 receptions, 174 yards, 1 TD
Kareem Hunt: 8 games, 78 carries, 386 yards, 5 TDs; 22 receptions, 174 yards
D'Ernest Johnson: 17 carries, 534 yards, 3 TDs; 19 receptions, 137 yards
Analysis in 150 Words or Less
The run game remained one of the best units in the NFL even though the Browns missed three games from Chubb and over half a season from Hunt. Chubb missed two games with a calf injury and one game due to COVID-19, while Hunt missed nine games with a calf injury and an ankle injury. Johnson, though, carried the load whenever he was needed and turned in the best season of his three-year career — and his backstory made his season arguably one of the most uplifting stories to come from 2021. The Browns certainly missed the versatile talents of Hunt in their backfield, but Chubb and Johnson were largely able to deliver the production the Browns still expected from their RB room at the beginning of the season.
Number of Significance
2,471 - The Browns ranked fourth in the NFL with 2,471 rushing yards, the most they've totaled in a season since 1978. Over half of those came from Chubb alone, who finished second in the league's rushing race and had his highest total since rushing for 1,494 yards in 2019. The Browns led the league with 5.09 yards per rush, the highest by the team since 1966.
Check out the best photos from the 2021 season by the Browns photo team
When Chubb and Hunt were both unavailable in Week 7 due to injuries, Johnson stepped in for his first NFL start and needed only three carries on three consecutive plays to score his first touchdown. The first rush went for 20 yards, the second went for 10 yards and the third went 4 yards into the end zone to give the Browns an early lead in their eventual 17-14 win on Thursday Night Football over the Broncos. Johnson finished the game with a career-high 146 yards and proved once again, three years after he forged a path back to the NFL after he was a fisherman in Florida, that he's capable of rising to any opportunity.
Week 12. The Browns went into Baltimore with both Chubb and Hunt active for the first time since Week 6, yet they only managed 36 rushing yards on 15 combined attempts. The offense struggled to maintain possession even though Ravens QB Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions in a 16-10 loss for Cleveland. Nothing about the offense was on-track that night, and the run game was no exception.
What They Said
"It was hard. Kareem is a great player for this team. He brings intensity. He brings a lot of energy. He makes big plays. When he was playing and when he was healthy, he was making big plays for the team and giving us a lot of momentum. To not have that in the offense, it was big. We surely missed him because he brings energy, he makes big plays and he's a great teammate. He's special. To not have that was definitely a hit for us." - Chubb
Who's Back for 2022?
Chubb, Hunt and Demetric Felton Jr., who was primarily used as a receiver in his rookie year, are all under contract for next season.
Who's a Potential Free Agent
Johnson is a restricted free agent.
As long as Chubb and Hunt are on the roster, the Browns will always be capable of possessing one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Both players are 26 and have yet to hit their peaks, and the best way for the duo to be even better next season is to stay healthy. Hunt, in particular, is such a core component of the offense with his rushing and catching abilities, and a healthy return for him next year should be a tremendous boost for the group.