The next positions that will be examined in our series, State of the Browns, are the running backs and fullbacks. The Cleveland Browns were sorely lacking in these positions last year causing a poor run game throughout the 2013 season. So, the Browns were in need of huge overhaul and influx of talent at the two backfield spots. This offseason the Browns did just that by adding a group of young talented players. The Browns used free agency, the draft, and the undrafted free agency to find players to fit these needs. The Browns started in free agency by adding running back Ben Tate formerly of the Houston Texans. Then the team selected Terrance West of Towson in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. They finished off the additions with the signing of running back Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State and fullback Ray Agnew of Southern Illinois. These players are part of the huge revamp at the back positions.
Projected RB Depth Chart
The Browns found their projected starting running back early in free agency with the signing of Ben Tate from the Houston Texans. Entering his fifth season in the NFL, Tate is finally getting the opportunity to earn a starting running back job. In his seasons with the Texans, he was stuck behind star running back Arian Foster for most of his time there. But when he got his opportunity to play, he took advantage of it and played very well. He has a total of 1,992 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. The most impressive statistic is his career yards per carry of 4.7 yards. He has not gotten a whole lot of carries but when he does get carries, he is very productive at getting positive yards. Tate is a player who could have been a starter for any other team but was trapped behind an elite running back.
Ben Tate is a power running back with a very impressive burst for a bigger running back. He is a 5-foot-11-inches and 217-pounds back who has speed to go along with his bulky frame. He can run through and also past defenders because of his outstanding size and speed combination. Tate is a run cut running back who hits the hole with a lot of power and quickness. He will not be a back who will hesitate for an opening in the line because when he gets the ball, he is quick to hit the hole. He is a downhill runner who is very quick to read the line and get through it as fast as possible before the defense is set. He also has the ability to catch in the passing game and be a three down back.
The biggest flaws with Ben Tate are his injury history and lack of top speed. Tate has had many injuries during his career with the Texans causing him to never be able to play a full 16-game season. This in turn raises questions on if he can be productive as a full time starter for the Browns. He also does not have elite athleticism and speed, which could limit his big play ability. Because of his lack of speed, he will not run away from the defense very often. But even with these questions, Tate is tagged as the opening day starting running back for the Browns. He fits perfectly in the Kyle Shanahan’s zone running game the Browns will be installing because of his quick, one cut downhill running style. Tate could be a breakout player for the Browns this season.
The Browns may have found their future running back with their selection of Terrance West. West is very similar to Ben Tate in their style of running. He is a bigger running back at 5-foot-9-inches and 225-pounds. West was very productive in college with 83 touchdowns in his three seasons. He was one of the highest rated running backs coming out of this year’s draft. He had very heavy workload at Towson, but handled it well by being very effective with his opportunities.
Terrance West is a power back who is another one cut running back. He is a downhill runner with strength and toughness to run over defenders. He has good vision that allows him to hit the hole quickly and make up for his lack of elite speed. West can move the pile with his power and get more yards after initial contact. He is very good at getting as many yards as possible because of his determination and strength to stay upright. Along with his tough running style, West has good hands which helps him contribute in the passing game. He could be a three down back for the Browns because of his catching ability.
The questions that surround Terrance West are his lack of experience versus top competition and his lack of elite speed. West played at small school Towson where he did not face the toughest opponents. He must prove he can play against the best of the best in the NFL. He also lacks the top speed that will allow him to run away from defenders. These flaws are something that West will need to answer in order to be a productive NFL running back. West could eventually take away the starting running back job from Ben Tate if he comes in and produces.
The Browns lost Dion Lewis last preseason with a season-ending injury and thus they were unable to see how much he could help the team. Lewis was one of the early breakout players during the 2013 preseason, but never got to show what he could during the regular season. He is a dual threat back with explosive athleticism. He has top speed and agility to run past defenders and make big plays for the offense. He can juke defenders and quickly get past them with a fast cut. He also is very good in the passing game which allows him to be placed anywhere on the field. Lewis can make the big play that can change the whole outcome of a game.
Dion Lewis’ biggest question is his ability to stay on the field and be productive in a regular season game. Lewis was unable to play in any meaningful game because of his season-ending injury. He will need to show he can stay healthy and produce for the Browns. If he can stay healthy, he will give the Browns a huge weapon on offense who can make big plays for them. He also is a good complement to both Tate and West because of his athleticism and versatility. Lewis figures in to be a player like Darren Sproles in that he will be placed all over the offense and get the ball in different situations.
Isaiah Crowell could be the biggest wildcard of all the running backs. Crowell has the talent to be an NFL caliber running back, but has many character issues, which hurt his chances of being a NFL player. He was a highly rated high school running back who can make one cut and burst pass defenders. He has good vision, agility and strength to get past defenders and take the ball up field for a big gain. He has the prototypical size and speed of an NFL caliber running back.
The biggest question with Isaiah Crowell is his character problems. He has been in trouble with the law throughout his college career. He also has been selfish on the field in terms of his lack of interest to block and listen to coaching. He must answer this huge issue and show the Browns that he can be a professional team player. If he can answer this problem, he has a chance to make an impact on the team in some sort of way. He will be battling with Edwin Baker for the final spot in the running back depth chart. He must show that he can produce on special teams and be more versatile in order to earn this spot.
Edwin Baker was a late season pickup for the Browns last year. Baker played in three games and led the team in rushing yards all three of these games. He ran 43 times for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns during his short stint. He also was somewhat productive in the passing game with 8 receptions for 57 yards. When he was in the game, he was one of the more productive running backs for the Browns. Baker is a smaller back with good quickness and vision to get through the line. He is very strong for a shorter player with the ability to run between the tackles. He is not going to be an every down back who can carry the ball over 25 times. But he could fit a role as a third down back to help in the passing game. Baker will compete with Crowell for the last running back spot. He could earn the spot because of his versatility to play on special teams and on third down.
Projected FB Depth Chart
Chris Ogbonnaya is not a prototypical fullback who is solely in to block. He is really a running back who converted to fullback because of necessity. He did not play the position like most fullbacks in that he was really used as a player who can line up and do multiple things for the offense. In the 2013 season, Ogbonnaya ran 49 times for 240 yards and had 48 receptions for 343 yards and 2 touchdowns. These numbers show how he was used last year as a versatile back. He also did his share of blocking on both running and passing plays. He is a player who will do anything for the team and play anywhere they need him to play.
Chris Ogbonnaya is still slated to be the starting fullback for the Browns especially after the release of Chris Pressley. Ogbonnaya is an important player for the Browns because of his ability to block, run, and catch the ball. He is more of a third down fullback who can do many things in the passing game. He will be the obligatory starter for the Browns unless the team adds a prototypical blocking fullback sometime before the season. The Browns might also look to fill the blocking fullback spot with someone already on the roster like Agnew or someone who may convert from a different position. But, Ogbonnaya will be a huge part of the offense especially with the Browns’ increased preference of running the ball.
Ray Agnew is a player who fits the bill as an NFL fullback. He is a 5-foot-9-inches and 246-pounds undrafted free agent from Southern Illinois University. He is primarily a blocking fullback who will not contribute much in terms of catching and running the ball. If he makes the team, he would be the blocking back the Browns need in short yardage situations. Agnew will have a hard time making the team because the Browns will look to use the roster spots for other positions. In order to make the team, he will need to show that he can play on special teams.
The Cleveland Browns were 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last year. The Browns were too pass happy last year, which in turn hurt their ability to close out games. They could not run the clock out well because they had nobody to gain the necessary yards. The team had to completely overhaul the running back position and find players who will fit the new zone blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan. The zone blocking scheme has been very successful for Shanahan and so this alone could improve the team’s rushing game. But along with the new scheme, the Browns added many talented running backs who could be very productive for them.
The addition of Ben Tate gives the Browns a player who can carry the load for the team. He fits perfectly in the zone scheme because of his downhill running style. He hits the hole quickly and makes one cut to get up field. Tate has been productive in his career when he was given a chance. Ben Tate could turn into a high quality starting running back for the Browns. Terrance West gives the team a young player who they can develop into their future starting running back. He is very similar to Tate and so he will fit well in the zone running scheme. Ben Tate will probably start out initially as the starting back, but West could end up getting some of the carries later on in the season.
Dion Lewis is a very interesting player for the Browns. He could be the big weapon the Browns could use in their offense. The Browns will probably look to use him like the Saints did with Darren Sproles. His main question will be if he can stay healthy and be on the field the whole season. Lewis can line up all over the field and be used in many different ways. Isaiah Crowell and Edwin Baker will be competing for the last spot on the depth chart. Crowell has the most talent of the two and probably has the upper hand at making the team. It all depends on if he can overcome his character issues and be a good teammate. Baker was productive for the Browns during his short stint last year. The player, who does not make the team, could be placed on the practice squad.
The fullback position is still a question for the Browns. The team signed a true blocking fullback in Chris Pressley, but later cut him. They have a versatile player in Chris Ogbonnaya who can block, catch, and run the ball. Ray Agnew gives them a blocking fullback who could develop into their blocking back. Look for the Browns to add or convert another player into a fullback who will primarily block.
The Browns have had added a lot of talent to the running back position. This position could be the biggest improvement amongst all of the positions. The fullback group will probably be a position where they will continue to look for upgrades. They should be much improved in the running game based on their acquisitions and scheme change. The running game will be a more important part of the offense under Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan. So, the team may completely flip the philosophy of the offense by being a run first offense.
(Photo by: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)