You may remember back in 2010 (you know the last time there was a complete overhaul in Berea) we wanted to give incoming President Mike Holmgren a hand evaluating the roster. We are nothing if not equal opportunity. The Browns have a completely new group in charge this year. Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Ray Horton take over a 5-11 team. They have plenty of important decisions to make about the roster between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. WFNY wants to offer our assistance with The Banner Position Reports. Previous reports: LB, QB
Like the Quarterback position, the Browns search for a lead back has been a journey to say the least. Take away the anomaly that was the Jamal Lewis three-year run (which was really a great 2007, a slowing of ability in 2008, and a career-ender in 2009), and the Browns have been led in rushing by the likes of William Green, Reuben Droughns, James Jackson, Jerome Harrison, and Peyton Hillis. These days in the NFL, the one-back system seems to be giving way to more of a RB by committee, except for special cases. Heading into 2013, the Browns are one of the few teams that has their one lead guy.
When the decision was made to take Trent Richardson third overall in the 2012 draft, a workhorse, every down stud tailback arrived to tote the rock. They hoped that oft-injured former second-round pick Montario Hardesty could be a capable backup, with guys like Brandon Jackson, and Chris Ogbannaya there in reserve. The lone true fullback on the roster was Owen Marecic, a converted two-way player. He was quickly replaced by tight end Alex Smith. To say anything was a success in 2012 would be foolish, but the running game, with a strong offensive line and a rookie scoring machine in Richardson, looked good at times.
So where does this leave us with Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi now making the personnel decisions?
The 2012 Season
Statistics (via Pro-football Reference):
Richardson - As I said then, the plan will be and should be to give the ball to Richardson as many times as they can over the next four years and run him into the ground. Let us see where he is then. Year one saw #33 battle injuries but continue to fight through them. In 15 games, he rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns, a Browns rookie record. He also caught 51 passes for 367 yards and a TD. Richardson started the season coming off of knee surgery which robbed him of his most of the preseason. It was later revealed that he played close to half of the games with broken ribs. If we learned anything, its that not only can Trent play through pain, he doesn’t complain about it. He has a nose for the end zone which was a huge boost to a moribund offensive attack the year before and gave the club a whole new dynamic. Expect a healthy Richardson to be even better in 2013.
Hardesty – Former GM Tom Heckert’s pet project had to fight to make the 53-man roster and by the end of the season proved to be a very valuable backup and change of pace to the bruising Richardson. The knock on Montario is obviously durability, but in his 13 active games, he made plays when he was on the field. He only received double digit carries in three games, but when he did, he should good speed. Hardesty still has trouble catching the ball out of the backfield, but as your second RB, you could do a lot worse.
Ogbannaya – He was former head coach Pat Shurmur’s guy. In 2011, Ogbannaya was a revelation, earning play with his hard-work and special teams prowess. In year two of the Ogby era, he was the third down back. Because of Shurmur’s affinity for him, he probably won’t be back in 2013, but Chris did a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield and was a reliable blocker. He played in 15 games, but received just eight carries. He did catch 24 balls, most of the checkdown variety. I actually am an Ogbannaya fan.
Jackson - Signed as a free agent before the 2011 season from Green Bay, Jackson was thought to be the third down back thanks to his pass catching ability. Instead, he missed all of 2011 with an injury, and spent all but two games – the first and the last – on the inactive list. To say Jackson’s time in Cleveland was disappointing would be an understatement. I’m not sure the Heckert/Shurmur duo liked what they saw once he came to town. In the finale, without Richardson, Jackson rushed eight times for 54 yards in Pittsburgh.
Marecic - What is there to say about Owen that hasn’t already been said? Those of us who loved former Fullback Lawrence Vickers never liked him from the start two seasons ago and his play on the field never translated. To make matters worse, he dropped all four balls thrown his way in 2012 and was banished to the inactive list for half of October and the entire month of November.
Trent Richardson – $1.3 million 2013, $2.25 million 2014, $3.18 million 2015, Free agent 2016
Montario Hardesty – $630,000 2013, Free agent 2014
Chris Ogbannaya – Restricted Free Agent 2013
Owen Marecic – $555,000 2013, $645,000 2014, Free agent 2015
Brandon Jackson – Unrestriced Free Agent 2013
Eddie Williams – Restricted Free Agent
Banner Report Advisory Alert: Guarded
With Richardson presumed to be healthy and primed for a monster second year and Hardesty looking like a more than capable backup, the Browns are in good hands. Lombardi however may be on the lookout for a speedy, third-down scat back in the middle rounds of the draft. With so many other more pressing needs, I cant see this position as high on the list to fill.
The fullback position has fallen by the wayside in most NFL circles these days, and Rob Chudzinski loves to use the tight end. With that said, the Browns may be in the market for a fullback if the faith in Marecic is all but lost.
The 2013 Draft Class Per Mel Kiper Jr.
Eddy Lacy – Alabama – 5’10, 220 lbs
Montee Ball – Wisconsin – 5’11, 210 lbs
Le’veon Bell – Michigan State – 6’2, 242 lbs
Andre Ellington – Clemson – 5’9, 197 lbs
Giovani Bernard – North Carolina – 5’10, 205 lbs
Jawan Jamison – Rutgers – 5’8, 203 lbs
Mike Gillislee – Florida – 5’11, 207 lbs
Marcus Lattimore – South Carolina – 6’0, 232 lbs
Tommy Bohanon – Wake Forest – 6’0, 247 lbs
Lonnie Pryor -Florida State – 6’0, 232 lbs
Zach Line – SMU – 6’0, 233 lbs
Zach Boren – Ohio State – 5’11, 236 lbs
Kyle Juszczyk – Harvard – 6/1, 248 lbs
I just cannot see the Browns using a high draft pick on either a running back or a fullback. So cross guys like Lacy, Ball, and Bell off of your list. However, in the middle rounds, don’t be shocked if Lombardi looks for a speed guy like Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, Arkansas’s Knile Davis, or Auburn’s Ontario Mccalebb, who opened eyes at the combine by running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash.
As for the fullbacks, none of the top guys rated above a “borderline draft prospect” according to Kiper.
Top 2013 Unrestricted Free Agents
Cedric Benson – age 30
Reggie Bush – age 28
Shonn Greene – age 27
Peyton Hillis – age 27
Steven Jackson – age 29
Felix Jones – age 25
Rashard Mendenhall – age 25
Michael Turner – age 31
LaRod Stephens-Howling – age 25
The majority of the free agent tailbacks are either guys hitting that magic age of 30 (Turner, Benson, Jackson), or younger players who never lived up to their expectations (Mendenhall, Jones, Greene). If there is a name on that list that intrigues me, it is Stephens-Howling. He has returned kicks in Arizona for four years and served as their third-down back the last two. He has good hands and decent speed. Remember, it was Chudzinski who had an affinity for a similar type of player when he was in Cleveland; Jason Wright. Stephens-Howling could be a strong under-the-radar candidate to join the Brown and Orange.
Want another wild card? How about Reggie Bush? He thinks he is a feature back, but he just isn’t. The Dolphins don’t want to pay him like that either and have chosen to let him walk. How about Bush as a third down back and a punt returner? I’m sure that is a pipe dream, but the fit is there.
I looked over this quite a bit, and there are literally no free agent fullbacks worth mentioning. Vickers could become a cap casualty in Dallas, but as of today, he is still on their roster. And yes, I would love to see him return.