Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon. Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey
Following a season that featured Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Edwin Baker taking the bulk of snaps at running back, the Cleveland Browns eyed the upcoming NFL Draft and free agency as opportunities to upgrade their backfield. Within the span of two months, the Browns completely re-hauled the position, signing former Houston Texans running back Ben Tate to a two-year contract and drafting former Towson University workhorse Terrance West.
The additions of Tate and West to the Browns backfield give new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan multiple productive backs who fit well with his new zone-blocking scheme. This type of run game greatly differs from the Rob Chudzinski and Pat Shurmur power run offenses in which premier athletes and big-bodied runners succeed. The power run game necessitates a back who can make a fast read, is able to run through a pre-determined hole in the line, and can make defenders miss by virtue of their elite size power or elusiveness. Rather than read the defense as the play happens, backs are taught to hit the hole quickly and reach the second level of the defense where they will be able to use their athleticism or size to pick up large gains.
Conversely, offenses that use a zone run-blocking scheme, such as the system Shanahan uses, require a running back possessing great vision and patience to seek out the open holes. On a zone-blocking offense, running backs can succeed without Adrian Peterson-level athletic ability as long as they are able to read the blocks and use one cut to turn up-field into an open hole. The decreased emphasis of athletic ability has allowed running backs such as Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, and Arian Foster to excel in the NFL.
Considering the Cleveland Browns’ implementation of the zone running scheme, selecting Terrance West makes a great deal of sense. Although he will likely never be the fastest or strongest player on the field, West demands attention due to his prolific college career and his relentless running style. However, he will have to earn respect not only by virtue of being a rookie, but also because he played at a college in a lower-tier system, the FCS. Due to the need to protect oft-injured fellow running back Ben Tate from overuse, Terrance West projects to get a large share of snaps. After a year of picking up running backs from the scrap heaps, the dual threat of Terrance West and Ben Tate should reinvigorate the Browns running game with fresh legs in a brand new zone-blocking scheme.
Great Vision, Patient Runner, Good First Cut:
As I mentioned above, running backs in a zone-blocking scheme are able succeed despite a deficiency in athleticism and power simply due to their ability to find an opening and get upfield with one cut. Luckily, for both West and the Browns, the Towson University product excels in finding a seam and bursting through. When West was able to read his offensive linemen and find a crease, he consistently gained more yards than he did on simple isos or dives up the middle.
Against Eastern Illinois University, in the FCS Quarterfinals, West rushed for an insane total of 354 yards and picked up five touchdowns. On this play, a 37-yard rush, the offense ran an inside zone handoff to the left. However, as West took the handoff and took two steps, he realized the movement of the offensive line, to the left, was alerting the strong-side and middle linebackers who were moving to quickly fill the playside A and B gaps. Rather than try to stuff the run up the middle, he saw the opening for a cutback lane to the right and hit the opening. This swift cut gave West a step on the weak-side safety and linebacker who each ended up chasing from behind. The jump-cut without slowing down to split the unblocked cornerback and the pursuing safety to break this open is West’s best move in open field and he executes it beautifully.
Against the University of Connecticut, West is able to show off his prowess against an FBS team, rushing for 156 yards and picking up two touchdowns. On this run, Towson uses a play called “Power”, run out of power-run offensive schemes, in which the front side of the offensive line blocks back and a guard pulls around. West must follow the backside guard for this play to work and in this instance, the defensive line penetrated the front side enough that the guard runs into his own teammate. However, West does not panic and instead, patiently follows right behind the guard as he re-aligns himself. West’s patience on this run is rewarded as the pulling guard manages to block two defenders who would have had good angles and he is able to drag two defenders for an extra ten yards after contact.
Powerful, Carries Defenders, Finishes Runs:
At 5-foot-9, 225 pound, Terrance West looks like a bowling ball of muscle and he often plays like one. When defenders try to wrap him up, West is able to drag them for extra yards and finish the run falling forwards for extra yardage. He loves to finish runs and excels in gaining the small scraps of extra yards that relentless backs who never quit a play early can accrue. At the second level of the defense, West often tries to run over defenders who stand in his way, if he cannot elude them. However, he does need to improve at hitting the hole up the middle harder, especially when space is tight and he must make a hole , rather than find one. Of course, this would be much more of an issue in a power-run offense. In a zone-run scheme, West will be able to utilize patience and find open space, whether inside, outside, or a cutback.
In this instance, Towson again runs the play “power”. On a fourth and goal play from inside the ten yard-line, the run must be much more quick hitting than against a more spread out defense. West is able to follow his guard perfectly and then collide into a safety at the three yard-line as a linebacker tries to help on the tackle from the side. Despite the insane ten men in the box for the defense, West is able to truck the safety and extend the ball into the end-zone for a touchdown on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, against Eastern Illinois, West shows off his power to finish the run by taking a linebacker for a ten yard ride around his waist as he waits for help to arrive. At such a late point in a frigid game, this play shows off West’s combination of stamina, strength, and pure effort. His non-stop motor allows him to never take a play off and deliver blows to defenders, the two traits of running backs that Cleveland fans adore.
Good Balance, Keeps Moving Forward on Contact:
In evaluating running backs, balance is one of the most most underrated abilities. A ball-carrier who is able to absorb contact but keep moving up-field is invaluable. Terrance West has great feet which allow him to stay upright and gain yards as he fights off tacklers. Even though West often runs standing upright, at 5-foot-9, he is able to spin off, juke, or just out-work his opponents to avoid being tackled by the first defender.
This play is a great example of West absorbing hits but always keeping his feet moving and making sure he leans forward to gain any extra yardage available. Although he is first hit as he crosses the line of scrimmage, West is able to shrug off the contact and fight off multiple arm tackles until a group of defenders is able to wrestle him down from behind. The best thing a running back can do when hit is to bounce off and continue heading up-field which West does to perfection.
On a fourth down and short in the fourth quarter, the Towson Tigers run an inside handoff to West who hits runs straight into the left side of the line, behind the first down marker. However, he somehow keeps his balance and executes a deadly spin move to get just outside of the lunging linebacker whose duty is contain. Terrance West’s ability on this play to catch his balance and somehow spin to find a hole in a play that looked hopeless shows how deadly he can be as a runner, even against ten defenders in the box.
Impressive Lateral Agility/Footwork for a Big Back, Can Make Defenders Miss:
As a short, stocky running back without breakaway speed, one might anticipate that Terrance West has below average footwork and agility. However, he has shown on many occasions that this typecast does not include him. Both in the open field and at the line of scrimmage, West’s favorite move to avoid tacklers is a simple jump-cut which has a high rate of success.
On a third down, in the red zone against James Madison University, West employs his jump-cut which enables him to reach the edge of the defense. The James Madison defensive front penetrated the offensive line, shutting any holes in the middle of the defense. However, West manages to bounce the run outside and embarrass a would-be tackler in the process.
Although West will not be able to pull off this type of a run in the NFL, this play illustrates just how quickly he is able to change direction and make defenders miss with footwork rather than pure strength. In his best Johnny Football impression, West scores this touchdown on third down, a common theme of being clutch that was noticeable.
Extremely Productive in College, Nose for the End-Zone:
Although Terrance West played in the FCS, a lower tier division of college football, he produced statistics that are a challenge to match even in video games. West ran 413 times, accumulating 2,519 yards, for an average of 6.1 yards per carry, and 41 touchdowns. Both the yardage mark and the touchdowns were enough to set new single-season records in the FCS. And those numbers are only from his junior season. As a freshman, West won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS. In just three seasons, West’s achievement of 84 touchdowns ties Georgia State University product Adrian Peterson’s (not that Adrian Peterson) record for most career FCS touchdowns.
Simply put, Terrance West was a man amongst boys at Towson University. Unable to qualify academically at Clemson University or the University or Maryland, he was forced to look at smaller schools. Of course, people will question whether West can adjust from FCS football to the NFL, and while that is a valid concern, they must also acknowledge that by becoming arguably the best running back in the history of the FCS, he did the best with the hand he was dealt.
It feels good to have the Elway-like helicopter dive on Cleveland’s side, doesn’t it?
Average Speed, Not Explosive to the Outside:
Terrance West’s has deceptive speed for a bigger running back, but lacks the burst that the best running backs tend to posses. When watching West run, he often is slow to accelerate but seems to gain momentum as he runs, especially when he cuts up-field and heads to the second and third levels of the defense. Due to West’s lack of an initial burst, he is susceptible to losing yards if he attempts to dance in the back-field rather than go forwards. However, when he is able to find an opening and hit the hole, West seemingly accelerates as he picks up yardage. Although West will never be able to break away from NFL defensive backs, his 4.52 40-yard-dash at the combine silenced some of his doubters.
West is inconsistent with his burst and speed, sometimes taking false steps or standing up straighter. To check out the difference in West’s execution and results, compare the above run against the University of Eastern Illinois to his outside run against the University of Connecticut. On the above play, West’s first step is backwards, immediately decreasing his possible acceleration. When he takes the handoff, West stands up-right and runs into the B-gap on the right, behind the pulling guard. However, due to his lack of speed, West is not able to run over the first defender he comes into contact with who takes advantage of his upright body and makes the tackle.
On this play, West shows off his maximum potential as an outside runner. Unlike in the previous play, West does not take a false step, instead quickly advancing and exploding forwards from his position behind the quarterback. This hastened start allows West to out-run the defense to the sideline, finding a seam near the boundary. However, this type of play does not happen for West nearly as much as the previous play. The former Towson running back must focus on increasing his burst out of his stance in order for him to make up for his average speed.
Runs Standing Straight Up-and-Down:
As I briefly mentioned above, Terrance West often runs with a higher pad level than he should. West should use his short, stocky frame as a battering ram on all plays. However, he often runs standing too tall which negates the natural advantage his low center of gravity gives him.
This play shows a simple example of West running sideways without keeping his frame close to the ground. This opens up a much larger area for the defender to cleanly tackle West. As such a big back, West should never be arm tackled by a cornerback in a one-on-one scenario.
Inconsistent Ball Security:
Regardless of how talented a running back is with the ball in his hands, an issue with fumbling will get them put immediately in the proverbial doghouse. Terrance West must improve his ability in this key area since he fumbled the ball five times as a junior. West has two key problems with how he carrier the ball that lead to fumbling: he never transfers the ball to the opposite side of the defender, allowing the tackler a shot at the ball, and her sometimes holds the ball too far from his body.
This view of West’s fumble against Eastern Washington University shows how the football is not tightly secured and the defender has easy access to knock the ball out. If not attended to, this problem could rear its head in the NFL where stripping the ball becomes much more prevalent.
Played in FCS, Worse Competition, Tread on Tires, Has He Peaked?:
In this section, rather than speak about Terrance West’s film, I want to focus on other issues that cannot be analyzed with specific on-field moments. As noted previously, West played college football in the FCS, a clear tier below the FBS. The upgrade from the speed of FCS defenders to the pace at which the NFL game plays cannot be overstated. Some players simply cannot make this leap. West has shown the vision and power as a running back to succeed at the next level. However, the Browns’ coaching staff must quickly learn whether he be able to make the same reads and cuts at the NFL level. West’s speed would be the largest concern had he not proved some detractors wrong by running a 4.52 forty-yard-dash at the NFL Combine.
Another debatable concern about Terrance West is whether he has a high ceiling as an NFL running back and how long he will be able to last in the league. While rushing for 4,854 yards and eighty-four touchdowns placed West in a rarefied group of college running backs, the 802 carries in three years may be the most important number for his NFL future. One of the reasons for the decline in value of running backs by NFL teams is their lack of long-term potential. High numbers of carries wear down running backs much faster than any other position. West’s age, twenty-three, also limits his ceiling. Considering the amount of carries that Terrance West has over the past three years and the fact that he is old for an NFL rookie, one must wonder how much better he will become.
With the quarterback situation in Cleveland seemingly always unsettled and a complete lack of talent at receiver behind the likely-suspended Josh Gordon, Terrance West and fellow running back Ben Tate will have a chance to become the focal points of the Cleveland Browns offense. Running behind one of the better offensive lines in the league, West will have an abundant number of opportunities to fit into Kyle Shanahan’s new offense and prove that he is the Browns’ running back of the future.
For Cleveland Browns fans, the selection of Terrance West offers old school toughness combined with a relentless, but intelligent running style. West, along with Manziel and offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, will bring a spark to an offense that will likely be missing its top threat for portion of the season. Alongside Ben Tate, Terrance West will look to rid the fans of memories of Willis Mcgahee and instead, bring Cleveland a dual threat of talented ball-carriers in their backfield.