Friday, August 4, 2017

Cleveland Browns 2017 Season Preview: The Running Backs

By Katelin Marshall, @KatelinKnowsCLE

The Coaching Staff

The 2017 Cleveland Browns are going to emphasis the running game. Last season they were a run heavy team during the first handful of weeks, until injuries on the offensive line and an inconsistent defense forced them to change their strategy.

Even with the struggles during last season, Starting running back Isaiah Crowell finished with 952 yards on only 198 attempts. That evens out to a 4.8 yards per carry average which was top 10 in the NFL last season. This year, Hue Jackson wants to give Crowell the ball as much as possible since he fell just short of a 1000 yard season.. Its also a free agent year for Crowell. He was looking for a long-term deal with the Browns this off-season but the Browns just tendered him for one year at about 3 Million Dollars this season. So Crowell has a ton to prove to the Browns and the entire league in order for him to get the pay day he strives for. What's interesting about Crowell, in his entire career he's never had a game where he was given 20 or more carries. Hopefully with more opportunities this season, Crowell can make himself a household name.

Duke Johnson will be the backup running back to Crowell this season. But as Browns fans know, Johnson is extremely valuable to this team in both the running game and the passing game. While not getting a high number of carries last season (only 73 attempts) but he still averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Johnson is a change of pace back and has the ability to carry the running game if need be. He is the Miami Hurricanes' leading rushers in their storied history. And potentially, Johnson could be the Browns starter sooner rather than later if the Browns and Crowell don't get a long-term deal done.

Duke Johnson as a runner is underused there is no doubt about it. But, Duke Johnson the pass catcher is where he shows how valuable he is to this team. In his first two seasons, Johnson has 114 catches for over 1000 yards. In 2015, his rookie season, he was second in catches by rookies. The guy who was first? Amari Cooper of the Raiders. Last season, Johnson was second on the team with 53 catches for 514 yards and fans should expect the same type of season this year. Especially since, it was reported that Johnson could see some time as the slot receiver in certain formations in Hue Jackson's offense.

Outside of the two-headed monster of Crowell and Johnson, the Browns have a couple guys battling for third team reps. Rookie Matt Dayes out of North Carolina State was drafted in the seventh round. The Browns really like him during their time at the Senior Bowl. Dayes left NC State as their fourth leading rusher and third in rushing touchdowns during his four year career. If Dayes makes this team it would probably be because of his contribution to special teams. Same thing goes with Terrence Magee and Brandon Wilds. Both are going to have to contribute on special teams and show the coaching staff who they are during the preseason in order to crack the 53-man roster.

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