Football season is almost here. The Cleveland Browns are just under two weeks away from convening onto Berea for the start of training camp. The Browns have had a busy offseason with a slew of moves that have transformed the roster into a quite different one from last season. One of the bigger shuffles has come in the running back corps. Just like the quarterback position, the backs will see some new faces take the field. So, what can we expect from the Browns running back position in 2018? Let’s take a look at the Cleveland Browns backfield and preview the running backs for the 2018 season.
Major Additions: Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde
Major Subtractions: Isaiah Crowell
2018 Cleveland Browns Position Preview: Quarterback
The Browns running back position overtook quite a big makeover this offseason. Last season’s starting running back Isaiah Crowell is gone after leaving in free agency. To replace him, the Browns added Carlos Hyde through free agency and drafted Nick Chubb in the second round of the NFL Draft. However, Duke Johnson is still here as the Swiss Army knife of the offense.
Let’s start with Duke Johnson. Johnson was the team’s best offensive playmaker last season. He is a player who the Browns moved around the entire offense into different roles. He lined up as a running back and wide receiver last season, showing off his versatility to make plays in many different situations. The Browns need to get the ball in this man’s hands more than they did last year. After signing an extension this offseason, Cleveland hopefully sees that he should be a focal point of the offense in that he should get at least 20 touches in some form every game. He can make defenders miss with his agility and create things out of nothing. Contrary to what his size may indicate, Johnson is a strong runner who can take on contact and add more yards after the initial hit. For Johnson, usage will be the key.
The intrigue at this position will come between the battle for the primary running back spot between Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb. Carlos Hyde was signed in free agency after having a solid season last year with the San Francisco 49ers. Hyde is another versatile back in the Browns backfield. He is able to run the ball, catch the ball and block pretty well. He plays with power and good balance to take on contact and keep gaining yards. His biggest issue is injuries as last season was the only year he played all 16 games in his four-year career. Before the NFL Draft, Hyde looked to be the odds-on favorite to be the primary runner in the backfield.
However, the Browns threw a wrench in that thinking when they drafted Nick Chubb in the second round of the NFL Draft. Chubb is in the mold of Hyde in that he is a bigger back with the power to create yards after contact. He is unique, though, because he adds pretty good speed and cutting ability to elude defenders. His vision to find the open holes in the run game makes all of these skill sets even more valuable. Chubb’s biggest drawback is his injury history and his lack of fluidity to his game. He had a serious knee injury in college that really took some of the special qualities he had early on his career. But, the kid is a physical beast who can take defenders for a ride. He is the future primary runner in the Browns backfield for years to come.
This will be an interesting position to watch this year. The usage and playing time at this position will be so intriguing to follow. We know that Duke Johnson will be used all over the field as running back and receiver. But, we don’t know how Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde will be used yet. Who will be the primary ball carrier, alongside the versatile Johnson? Nevertheless, the Browns have a loaded backfield with the ability to have fresh players shuffled in and out throughout the season. Hopefully, Hue Jackson will lean on this group.
Biggest Strength: Yards after contact
This running back group is a load to take down. According to Pro Football Focus, Hyde caused 54 missed tackles with the ball in hands, while Johnson caused 39 missed tackles in 2017. At Georgia last season, Chubb forced 57 missed tackles with the ball in his hands. This group has a lot of power, especially Hyde and Chubb. But, the balance of all three backs is what makes them so hard to bring down. This ability should create big plays in the run game and make the run game a strong part of the offense.
Biggest Question: Usage
My biggest question mark has nothing to do with the actual talents of the running back corps, but squarely on the coaching of Hue Jackson. Will the run game be used more this season? The Browns rushed the ball just 38% of the time last season. That fell on the shoulders of Head Coach Hue Jackson. There is hope, though. Jackson is no longer the play caller as he has given up the reigns to Todd Haley. Last season with Pittsburgh, Haley called run plays on 41% of the plays. Cleveland has the talent in the backfield. The run game needs to be used more consistently.
Key Player: Duke Johnson
Johnson is a dynamic playmaker who can change games with one play. His versatility to play in different roles all over the field is a luxury for the Browns offense. In a team needing playmakers, Johnson is near the top of the list in filling that need. Johnson is a key player because of how he will be used and how much he is used. The more touches he gets, the better offense will be. He is so important to the success of the offense as a whole, not just the running back group.
Top Training Camp Battle: Carlos Hyde vs Nick Chubb
This will be fun to watch. Johnson is a running back who is used in many different roles, so the Browns need a back who will take the majority of carries in the run game. Hyde was the early favorite to fill the role of the primary back that Isaiah Crowell had last season. But, the selection of Chubb threw a curveball and has opened the competition wide open. Hyde should have the leg up due to his experience, but I believe Chubb is the more talented back. The competition could also end up being a tie and the Browns just decide to split the carriers.
I am really excited about the prospects of this group. But, I am still nervous about how Jackson and Haley will use it. Consistent usage will be the key to the success of this unit. The Browns need to run the ball more. Also, if you have read any of my pieces, you know by now that I love Duke Johnson. I believe he could be one of the biggest playmakers in the league if given his fair share of touches. He just has not been given enough touches under Jackson’s play calling. I am hoping that Haley uses him more often then Jackson did.
The battle between Hyde and Chubb will be intriguing, to say the least. They are both similar players with the ability to force missed tackles. They are powerful running backs who can be the feature back of an offense. So, the Browns are in good position with two worthy players. Who will take the role of Isaiah Crowell and be the primary ball carrier in the run game? Johnson will be used all over, so he will most likely not lead the team in carriers. So, it comes down to Hyde and Chubb. I think Chubb will show this preseason that he is the more talented back and that he deserves the most carries on the team. This unit should be one of the more successful groups on the team if given the proper usage. I’m looking at you, Hue Jackson and Todd Haley.
Nick Chubb will lead the team in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns.