Back in the day, running back was the most important position on the football field. Although quarterbacks have mainly taken over since then, there is still a very high place for halfbacks in the NFL. Nowhere in the league is the running back more important than in the rough and tumble AFC North. With every stadium in that division experiencing winter weather throughout the season, running takes more precedence than throwing. So let’s take a look at the AFC North’s Cleveland Browns and their running backs. Which Browns running back should be starting week one? Let’s find out.
Cleveland Browns Running Back Depth Chart Projections
1. Isaiah Crowell
Isaiah Crowell might be the most interesting out of the Browns running back prospects. First off, he had something of a breakout year in 2016. Rushing for 952 yards last season, “The Crow” was downright special in the beginning weeks. Sure, he did start to fizzle out late last season, but that was mainly due to the state of the offensive line. With Joe Thomas as the only respectable name on the offensive line, Crowell had a hard time getting good chunks of yardage. Now, that’s not to discredit Joe Thomas, but one player does not a great offensive line make.
This season, the Browns will have a totally new-look offensive line. Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler and former Packer J.C. Tretter joined the fray in free agency. Along with Joel Bitonio and (probably) Shon Coleman, Cleveland looks set in the offensive line department. Without a doubt, those signings and improvements were music to Isaiah Crowell’s ears. Behind a new and improved offensive line, who knows how many yards he might have in 2017? In any case, the Browns will certainly feed “The Crow” and give him a starting role.
2. Duke Johnson
If this list were for underutilized running backs, Duke Johnson would absolutely take the top spot. As a Browns running back, Johnson enjoyed a solid rookie year as a third down back. But then, something odd happened. At some point during the regime switch from Mike Pettine to Hue Jackson, “The Duke” got lost in the fray. In Jackson’s first year as head coach, Johnson basically went unnoticed, collecting only 358 yards. Even more shameful, he was only given 73 total attempts last year.
If the Browns want to truly be innovative on offense in 2017, they’ll need to use Duke Johnson more. Not only is Johnson incredibly versatile, but he’s also very creative. As far as versatility goes, Johnson can also line up as a wide receiver. Although a bit undersized, he’s freaky fast, and could work alongside Corey Coleman for an absolutely blazing quick duo. Either way, the Browns really need to use their backup running back more this season.
3. Matthew Dayes
We’ve already talked about rookie Matthew Dayes in another article, but here’s a refresher course. Coming out of North Carolina State, the Browns got an absolute steal for their third-string running back. At only about 5’8″, Dayes is incredibly quick and shifty a la Darren Sproles. However, he can also be a poignant bruiser, especially for someone his size. What the Browns really have here is a great pinch situation running back. Barring injury, Dayes will likely begin and end the season as the third string. However, he still has a ton of potential and will likely be used in various situations.