Running back help key need for Cleveland Browns


To say the Browns need to improve their running game would be a gross understatement.

They finished in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 27th in the NFL in that category last season.

Although the Browns' problems with moving the ball on the ground weren't limited to one reason, the biggest was an offensive philosophy that placed far more emphasis on the passing game, which should change under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

When the Browns traded Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts two games into last season, they seemingly won the deal by acquiring a first-round draft pick for a player who mostly struggled through the rest of the season and postseason. But they created a hole they never adequately filled, going with an aging Willis McGahee and unproven replacements.

The Browns also needed to do a much better job of opening holes for their backs, and that is a large part of why they figure to take a hard look at upgrading their offensive line as well.

But they have to find a running back, and maybe two, in free agency and the draft.

The Browns will search with a specific profile in mind – a back who excels at cutting against the grain (a "one-cut back") while often following the outside movement of the line in the Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme.

By most accounts, the only back on the team who would be a good fit in that type of running game is Edwin Baker, who played in the final three games of last season after the Browns signed him from the Houston Texans' practice squad on Dec. 10. Running behind more traditional run-blocking, Baker rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns.

In addition, the Browns have a solid veteran fullback/running back in Chris Ogbonnaya and a strong candidate for a third-down back with good pass-catching skills in Dion Lewis, who missed all of last season after suffering a leg fracture in the preseason.

Ben Tate (Texans) is the most prominent running back who is expected to become a free agent. Among others worth noting are Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings (Oakland), Knowshon Moreno (Denver), and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville).

The draft offers solid prospects in Carlos Hyde (Ohio State), Tre Mason (Auburn), Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), and Bishop Sankey (Washington).

>>This Road to the Draft segment is driven by Liberty Ford.

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