April 17, 2014

Banner Report: Running Backs

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: LBQB

Banner Report GuardedLike 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):

Age Pos G GS Att Yds TD Lng Y/A Y/G A/G
Trent Richardson 22 RB 15 15 267 950 11 32 3.6 63.3 17.8
Montario Hardesty 25 RB 12 1 65 271 1 25 4.2 22.6 5.4
Chris Ogbonnaya 26 RB 14 1 8 30 0 9 3.8 2.1 0.6
Brandon Jackson 27 RB 2 0 8 54 0 25 6.8 27 4
Alex Smith 30 FB 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brad Smelley 22 FB 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
348 1305 12   3.75
G Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G YScm RRTD Fmb
Trent Richardson 15 51 367 7.2 1 27 3.4 24.5 1317 12 3
Montario Hardesty 12 2 16 8 0 9 0.2 1.3 287 1 2
Chris Ogbonnaya 14 24 187 7.8 0 38 1.7 13.4 217 0 1
Brandon Jackson 2 2 20 10 0 14 1 10 74 0 0
Alex Smith 11 13 47 3.6 0 17 1.2 4.3 47 0 0
Brad Smelley 2 1 3 3 0 3 0.5 1.5 3 0 0
93 640   1     6.88

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.

Contract Situation:

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.

RB

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

FB

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

RB

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cb.everett.9 CB Everett

    I know he’s an idiot and delusional, but I somehow I would like to see Hillis return. He’s got good hands and would be a nice compliment to Richardson’s game (I’m assuming Hardesty as a “backup” will be hurt/can’t be relied upon for a 16 game schedule).

  • mgbode

    if he’s humbled enough to play FB (and Chud can/will mix in some runs/passes for him there), then I would be all for that signing. Peyton Hillis is exactly what I want in a FB (if his head is right).

  • mgbode

    A few overall thoughts:

    I hope that only Richardson and Hardesty remain from our list. Nothing against Ogbannaya, but I want a better RB3. Stephens-Howlings would be an upgrade there.

    I love Le’veon Bell and if he drops to the 3rd/4th (which I have seen but would be ridiculous), then the Browns could jump on that and have their RB corps set.

    If Reggie Bush ends up anywhere but the Lions, then I will be shocked. He’s said that Barry Sanders is his idol and the Lions love shifty RBs who can catch and need to sign one.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    If this year in KC didn’t humble him sufficiently – nothing will.

  • Haas

    We will not be getting Stephens-Howling. My fiancé works for his brother and he said he was willing to take a pay cut to stay in Arizona and they are already on contract talks.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Any chance we take a flyer on Lattimore? That injury was gruesome, but the dude is a beast and may be available late. You just never know…who would’ve thought Willis McGahee would have had a decade-long career after his knee was nearly ripped to shreds in the title game against OSU?

  • dan

    The thing is, the Browns were bad on 3rd and short last year, which is not what you want when you have a #3 pick at running back and high draft picks at both tackle positions and center.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t think there will be many free agents who want to come to Cleveland unless Haslam pays through the nose. Thirteen years compounded with the additions of Banner and Lombardi don’t help. The only thing that can turn it around is WINNING. I’m optimistic with Chud and his assistants but they need to show something before other players take notice.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    McGahee is a nice role model but Lattimore has had a couple serious injuries now. I loved the kid he’s a steamroller but health is a huge question mark. That being said if he somehow fell I wouldn’t be upset with taking a chance.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Would love Stephens-Howling as a 3rd down scatback. Le’veon Bell scares me… when I watched him at MSU, it seemed like he has really slow acceleration. I’m worried that will be a bigger factor in the NFL than it was in the Big Ten.

  • BenRM

    This is insane, b/c I am talking about full backs. But I would love for the Browns to get an established full back from somewhere; i.e. 3-4 years in the league and, ya know, isn’t Owen Marecic. I won’t pretend to know anything about FA Fullbacks, though.

    I like to make larry vickers jokes as much as the next guy, but I really believe a good full back is the difference between trent missing 1,000 yards and instead gaining closer to 1,500.

  • Jaker

    TRich should be in as much as possible, unless we are protecting an injury. A 3rd Rb shouldn’t be a high priority.
    Bush will get paid somewhere, and it won’t be Cleveland.
    Vickers is a dream at this point, so can’t bank on that(but it would be awesome).
    We have much bigger needs in the draft than adding another RB, doubt we take one.
    Lattimore is intriguing, I wouldn’t mind spending a 5th on him.
    FB? I’d like to see if Smelley can be the guy, if not, pick one up as an undrafted FA period. Plenty will be available.
    Marecic? I doubt anyone would even give up a 7th for him. If they do, do it!

    Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hardesty becomes available via trade. He’s young, and the FA market is weak. Also in his last year.

  • http://twitter.com/mibikin Mario Feghali

    For the record, Richardson is only 21, not 22 yet.

  • @TheDeePagel

    I thought Shurmur passed on 3rd and short most of the time. Perhaps that is why we were so bad, and not the RBs and OL?

  • mgbode

    there was a film breakdown on 3rd and short runs here. basically, no imagination. run right up the gut and hope for the best.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Sometimes though on 3rd and short, that’s what you need to do. Plenty of times coaches out think themselves on plays like that, try some fancy thing and it ends up dead. With Richardson and a solid OL, 3rd and short should be run right up the gut and simply be stronger, and more explosive than your opponent. That is our strength – use it.

  • mgbode

    sure, sometimes. but, when you run the same play every time in that situation, the defense knows what is coming and will blow it up. you have to have some ingenuity at this level.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Honestly, it shouldn’t matter if the D knows what’s coming in that situation. You’re missing my point. A guy like Richardson 3rd overall pick….if it is 3rd and 1 you need to go with your strength in that situation. Going away from it is a mistake – anytime. If you practice it and do it right it won’t matter what the D is doing.

    The great teams at this level do this.