The Cleveland Browns had yet another underwhelming, lost season as they went 6-10. The season led to massive changes within the organization including at head coach and general manager. The Browns addressed their coaching position with the hiring of Kevin Stefanski, but there are a lot of things left to do this offseason. Over the next few weeks, I will examine each position’s to-do list this offseason. Up next is the running back position.
Browns Offseason To-Do List Series: Quarterbacks
The Browns’ most successful position group last season was the running backs unit. It was led by Nick Chubb, who was second in the NFL in rushing yards. Chubb was the most consistent and productive player on the entire roster and he became the backbone of the offense. He was still successful behind a poor offensive line and in an offensive scheme that did no one any favors. Behind Chubb, Kareem Hunt came into the fray midway through the season as he had to sit out due to a half-season suspension. When he came into the lineup, he had solid production. He was not as successful as a runner as I expected, but his ability as a receiver was a great asset for the offense. He was utilized all over the field and in numerous roles, making a nice weapon for the offense. Other than Chubb and Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson saw action with Hilliard the majority of the snaps of these two backup backs. Hilliard had a strong preseason, but that success did not translate to the regular season. And, Johnson did not have enough snaps to make much of an impression as a running back.
1. Tender Kareem Hunt with a second-round tender
Tendering restricted free agent Kareem Hunt to a second-round tender should be objective No. 1 at the running back position. Hunt was a welcome offensive playmaker for the Browns last season. He did not have huge success as a runner, but his versatility was very good for this offense. With a second-round tender, I think the Browns would be able to keep him for at least one more year at a good value, given that a second-round pick would have to be given up by the team that wants to sign him. And if a team does sign him to the offer sheet, the Browns can weigh whether they should match it or just take the pick. In Kevin Stefanski’s offense, the run game is immensely important, so having a player like Hunt to complement Chubb would be huge for the offense. Last season, according to Sharp Football, Stefanski’s offense ran the second-most plays in 21 personnel and the third most plays in 22 personnel, which are two groupings that require two backs in the formation. Hunt is a versatile player, who I believe Stefanski would love to have in his offense.
2. Sign a FB
As I stated earlier, Stefanski’s offense last season ran the second-most plays in 21 personnel and the third most plays in 22 personnel, which are two groupings that require two backs in the formation. Part of those formations is the use of the fullback. The Vikings fullback was C.J. Ham. Ham had the third-most snaps of all fullbacks last season in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. The Browns currently do not have a quality fullback on the roster. This offseason, the Browns front office will need to find one for Stefanski. The team could go through the draft or free agency to find this player, but the most obvious avenue would be free agency because Ham is a restricted free agent and he played in Stefanski’s offense the past two years. Nonetheless, the Browns must find a fullback this offseason.
3. Implement the zone blocking scheme
The Browns will be implementing an entirely new running scheme under Stefanski’s offense. The Browns will be running a zone-blocking scheme that requires different things for running backs. It requires them to utilize their vision to find holes rather than a designed pathway that a power run scheme does. So, the Browns will need to implement this scheme and the mindset that goes into it for the running back unit.
4. Improve the OL
This is yet another position that was negatively affected by the poor offensive line last season. So as I said in my quarterbacks’ piece of this series, the Browns must improve the offensive line this offseason. Chubb did an incredible amount of his damage by himself with little help from his blocking. The Browns must upgrade both tackles and possibly the right guard spot. WFNY’s Michael Bode examined his plan for fixing the big holes at tackle. If Cleveland improves the offensive line, the running backs’ jobs will be that much easier.
5. Find a third running back
This will be an underrated objective for this position, but the Browns must find a running back to eventually take over for Kareem Hunt if and when he may leave. As I stated in the first point of the to-do list, getting Hunt back next season is important to me. So, it may just be one more year of Hunt at the most. This means the Browns must find a third running back to add depth to the unit and to eventually become a contributor for this team. This may be either Dontrell Hilliard or D’Ernest Johnson. The Browns have to evaluate these two young backs before the draft to determine if one of them could be the answer. If both are determined to not be the answer, then I would go through the draft to address this search. A late-round running back, who the team can develop, would be the best avenue at this point.