Running backs and the Cleveland Browns usually have not faired too well in recent history. Whether it is lack of talent, the refusal to run the football consistently or a mixture of both, the problem is up to you.
The Browns are not known for being great at anything regarding football. Shoot, they’re not even know to be anything other than terrible the past decade. Head Coach Hue Jackson walked into a mammoth of a challenge when accepting his job in 2015 and not even then would fans expect a 1-31 record in Jackson’s first two season with the team.
The Browns undoubtedly lacked talent recently. Nobody is denying that.
However, the running back position and offensive line were arguably the most well-off in terms of talent since Jackson’s arrival. So, run the ball – right? Well, that didn’t happen as many expected.
Cleveland ran the ball decently since 2016 and would find themselves in competitive games until Hue Jackson would abandon the run. Duke Johnson and former Cleveland Brown Isaiah Crowell put up good, not great, numbers but were stripped of opportunities to run the football.
In fact, the Browns have among the fewest rushing attempts over the last two seasons. In 2016, they ranked 31 of 32 averaging 21.9 rush attempts per game. They improved in 2017, averaging 24 rushes per game but still ranked 28 out of the 32 NFL teams. The Detroit Lions are the only team to rush the ball less than the Browns in both seasons, but the Browns also don’t have Matthew Stafford throwing the football.
However, this is not why the Browns are 1-31 in Jackson’s tenure. They turned to the pass attack early and often in games, a problem highlighted persistent throughout the 2017 NFL season. However, that’s common when you are consistently down by double digits.
But the fact of the matter is Jackson would abandon the run prematurely. And the Browns defense simply was not good enough to hold their own when the team would go to their pass happy offense, which lead to more than a few three-and-outs.
A combination of lack of depth, a true and established threat at running back and Cleveland’s coach moving away from the run were all large roles in the Browns lack of success rushing the ball under Hue Jackson.
Although, the 2018 NFL season is quickly approaching and the Browns are primed to run the football more for numerous reasons.
Cleveland hired new offensive coordinator Todd Haley who has a reputation for rushing the ball ferociously and often. Not to mention, the Browns have one of the better running back trios in the NFL in Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb.
Hyde, entering his fifth NFL season, has played for the San Francisco 49ers his whole career since being drafted in 2014, whereas Chubb was drafted with the No. 35 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Johnson, entering his fourth season with the Browns, just signed a contract extension worth $15.6 million over the next three seasons. He led Cleveland with 74 receptions in 2017 and has established himself as one of the NFL’s most versatile players. His role has expanded in Cleveland over the years and it should only continue to grow by each game. In 2017, he averaged 4.2 yards per rush and 9.4 yards per reception – a promising stat the Browns should look to build off of.
Hyde will likely get the first snap in training camp. He has had injury issues in previous seasons. Although he has been healthier of late, playing 13 games in 2016 and all 16 in 2017. There is no doubt Hyde will get a shot to win carries early on, but that brings us to the man the Cleveland Browns ideally would like to be the starter – Nick Chubb.
The Brown had an opportunity to select Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley as the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Of course, they elected to pass on the elite prospect and potentially game-breaking offensive weapon. However, they felt they were able to get their hands on a great running back at the top of the second round and were correct. Unlike number one pick Baker Mayfield, Chubb will see the field often in 2018.
The Browns drafted Chubb to be the starter. Now, he will not begin the 2018 season as such, but they hope and expect him to overtake that role in due time. His ferocious style of running is something that sparks an offense. He uses his leg strength to accelerate as soon as he identifies a hole and displays tremendous balance for his style of running. Similar to Duke Johnson, Chubb also is constantly fighting for those extra two yards at the end of a play and his power usually enables him to get them.
The Georgia standout won’t rack up the carries like some of the NFL’s best due to this crowded backfield, but his red-zone touches should be plentiful. He uses his great vision to patiently seek holes and has the ability to cut quickly and hit them. If there is a rookie on offense who Browns fans should be excited for more than the rest – it is Nick Chubb (assuming Mayfield doesn’t hit the field).
At the end of the day, the Browns simply did not run the ball effectively or often enough to win football games since Jackson took over as head coach. However, with this trio of backs and Todd Haley joining the coaching staff, the Cleveland Browns are ready to pound the rock and fans should look forward to some smashmouth football in 2018.