Aside from the quarterback, running back might be the most important position on offense. First of all, they open up the field and keep the defenders guessing. Additionally, they can spark the offense if the quarterback can’t get it going. In the case of the ever-inept Cleveland Browns, that is a rather frequent occurrence. Since 1999, their quarterbacks have been duds. Almost all of them, it seems, have failed miserably.
But what about the running backs last season? Were they able to carry Cleveland’s offense? Let’s find out. Class is in session once more, and today, we’ll be looking at the 2016 Cleveland Browns running back corps.
Cleveland Browns 2016 Season Grades: Running Backs
Isaiah Crowell: B+
Since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2014, Isaiah Crowell has certainly shown flashes in Cleveland. Although not a phenom by any means, “The Crow” has been a serviceable back most of the time. In his three-year career, Crowell has racked up 2,265 yards and 19 touchdowns. Again, not a fantastic showing, but still above average.
Despite a fumbling problem early in his career, Crowell looks to have fixed that in 2016 and (hopefully) beyond. Throughout the early parts of 2016, Crowell was one of the leading rushers in football. However, he fizzled out a bit as the season went on. Overall, the lead Browns running back receives a solid B+ for his efforts in 2016.
Duke Johnson: C+
It’s no secret that Duke Johnson had a terrific rookie year for the Browns. The Miami product racked up 917 total yards in 2015 (as a backup). However, he fell off last season under Hue Jackson. Most likely, coach Jackson just doesn’t know how to use him as a Browns running back yet. Johnson is an incredibly versatile back and has a lot of untapped potential, who works well in a much different role than Crowell, catching passes out of the backfield.
Johnson is a great speed back and can be a nice change of pace behind Crowell. Truthfully, once Jackson learns how to use him effectively, he should bounce back. Johnson has the speed and ball skills to scare defenders all across the field; he just needs to get more touches. But as for now, he collects an average grade of C+.
George Atkinson III: B-
Browns fans didn’t see much of George Atkinson III outside of preseason, but he performed well on short notice. Atkinson III was a good power back during the 2016 season, though only getting seven total attempts. With all those coming against the Steelers on New Year’s Day, Atkinson collected 37 yards and one touchdown.
Without much source material, Atkinson cannot be fairly judged. However, fans can look to his preseason performances and hope for more of that. While he might be the third string Browns running back, Atkinson is a strong runner with some potential. Time will tell how he perform next year, but for now, he receives a strong B- for his efforts.
Composite Grade: B
Overall, the Cleveland Browns running backs were…average. They were forced to carry the offense, although Cody Kessler did shine through at times. After everything was said and done, each Browns running back had their own story to tell in 2016. Crowell showed flashes of great things, Johnson was misused, and Atkinson III didn’t get enough touches.
In any case, Hue Jackson has three solid runners on his hands. Are they anywhere near Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch? No, but then again, who is? No matter what, the Browns running back corps was relatively solid throughout 2016, and with some development, they could get even better. For this group altogether, they receive a strong and optimistic B.