The 2019 Cleveland Browns season is almost upon us with just a mere week or so until the team hits Berea to start training camp. The Browns have had a very busy, exciting and newsworthy offseason. It saw the team make some big roster shaking moves, which has, in turn, catapulted the hopes and excitement of Browns fans into all new heights since the return of the franchise in 1999.
Over the next couple weeks, we are getting you ready for the start of the 2019 season by examining each of the Browns’ position groups. The next position under the microscope is the Browns running backs unit.
2019 Browns Positional Preview Series: Quarterbacks
The Browns running back unit is incredibly deep with starting level talent throughout the depth chart. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt may be the best running back duo in the entire league as both are two of the best young backs in pro football. Behind those two elite talents, the Browns have a quality secondary back in Duke Johnson. He adds versatility to the unit. And, do not overlook Dontrell Hilliard, as he showed promise as a receiving threat last season. The Browns are deep at running back.
The Browns biggest weakness is the group’s off-field issues. Nick Chubb is not at question for this issue. But, Kareem Hunt is a big question mark. Can he stay on the right path and not get in trouble off the field? He will miss the first eight games of the season, so the Browns can only rely on him for the second half of the season. Duke Johnson has requested a trade and so we do not know how Johnson will perform given his request. And while he recently swapped agents, dropping the one who’s wife called out Baker Mayfield on Twitter, his new agent is Drew Rosenhaus, who has facilitated many a trade as the agent of Emmanuel Ogbah and other NFL players.
Nick Chubb is the primary running back for this team and so he is the most important player in the unit. Chubb can make this offense incredibly dangerous by continuing his great rookie season this coming year. In just part of last season, he showcased the ability to be the best running back in the league with the talent to affect the run and pass game. If he can continue this success from last year, the Browns run game will be in great hands. Chubb will be the driving force for whether this team can be a productive and efficient rushing team.
The Browns have not had a key loss in their running back unit, yet. I say this because the Browns may be losing Duke Johnson if the team gives in to Johnson’s trade request. Cleveland looks as though they are very wary of trading this back, as they should be feeling. The loss of Johnson, causes the Browns running back unit to lose depth and a player who will comfortably fill in for Kareem Hunt during his suspension. Johnson’s receiving ability would be missed, too.
Dontrell Hilliard could be a player who ends up being a bigger factor than many are expecting. He is a second-year running back, who saw the most time last season as a returner on special teams. His value as a returner and on special teams coverage will likely give him a roster spot, but he could be more than that. He showed his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield last season, so he gives the Browns a possible third-down back for the offense. Could he show enough for the Browns to be comfortable rolling with him and trading Duke Johnson? Don’t underestimate this guy.
Dontrell Hilliard vs Duke Johnson
There is not a traditional training camp battle at running back, but I think there will be an interesting matchup between Dontrell Hilliard and Duke Johnson. Johnson wants to be traded, but the Browns are not willing to just trade him for nothing and lose the depth in this unit. But, this is where Hilliard comes into the picture. Can he perform well enough during the preseason to give the Browns confidence in him to go with him as the third back, allowing the team to trade Johnson? Both players have similar abilities in that they give versatility on offense. Hilliard and Johnson may be connected this preseason in terms of their outlook on the roster.
This running back unit could be incredible to watch this season. Let’s start with Nick Chubb. Chubb, when he was given the primary handoff duties, was one of the best running backs in the league and one of the toughest players to bring down. His combination of speed, elusiveness, and power is so unique, making him a player so hard to bring down. With him on the top of the depth chart, the Browns are already in a good position. But, then we add Kareem Hunt to the unit and this position is just bonkers. When he is on the field, he, like Chubb, is really hard to bring down. In his brief NFL career, he has produced at a great level that has catapulted him into the conversation of being one of the backs in the league. His question mark is off the field. He will miss the first eight games of the season. Can he stay on the right path to make it back on the field?
How the Browns coaching staff utilizes this unit will be fascinating to watch. Will Duke Johnson remain with the team or will he get traded? Can Dontrell Hilliard emerge as a viable option to take over for Johnson? How will the Browns utilize Chubb and Hunt in the second half of the season? This unit is so exciting given the immense talent on the roster, but there are a lot of interesting questions of how this unit will actually play out this season. I believe Johnson will be traded sometime this preseason, giving Hilliard a larger role in the offense, especially during the first half of the season. With the starting duties known from the start of the season, Chubb should have a breakout year leading the Browns run game and Hunt will be a nice midyear addition to make this offense even more dangerous. Cleveland is loaded at running back.