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Cleveland Browns Training Camp 2016: RB Preview, Part 1

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we begin our preview on the running back position for the Cleveland Browns with Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell in part 1. In part 2 on Thursday, we'll look at the other three running backs on the roster: Terrell Watson, Raheem Mostert, and Glenn Winston. Finally, we'll wrap up the position on Friday by looking at the team's two options at fullback: Malcolm Johnson and Patrick Skov.


8276_mediumDuke Johnson (#29)

5-9 | Weight: 210
Age: 22 | Experience: 2 years
College: Miami

Note: Never flashed on the ground as a rookie ... Looked to be an exceptional receiving back ... Often underutilized in second half due to coaching blunders.

Although Duke Johnson didn't have a stellar season on the ground last year (104 attempts for 379 yards, a 3.6 YPC, and no touchdowns), he turned heads around the NFL for his ability to be a threatening receiving back.

Johnson logged 61 catches for 534 yards and 2 touchdowns. From a statistical perspective, it brought back memories of Jamel White in the early 2000s. What gets you excited about Johnson is the way he was effectively used as a mismatch against linebackers compared to White. In many of our film reviews, Johnson had a clear first-step advantage on his defender. His most memorable play of the season came on a wheeling go-route touchdown catch from Josh McCown.

The most perplexing thing about Johnson last year was that he would often have a big catch or two in the first half, and then be absent from the playing field in the second half. That was strictly a management issue from the coaching staff. Some may say that if something works, you should use it in moderation because teams will adapt when you go to the wheelhouse too often. I don't think that's true with Johnson -- if teams do adapt, it'll involve putting a better defender on Johnson or two players shadowing him. Either way, somebody on offense should be the benefactor.

This year, we'll find out more about Johnson's future in the NFL. Will he have the chance to become an all-purpose back, sort of how Giovani Bernard was for Hue Jackson in Cincinnati?

Final Roster Odds: 100%


8276_mediumIsaiah Crowell (#34)

5-11 | Weight: 225
Age: 23 | Experience: 3 years
College: Alabama State

Note: In 2015, before hot streak, only 30% of fans thought Crowell would rush for over 600 yards (he finished with 706).

Last year, Isaiah Crowell season could be broken down in spurts.During his first five games, he had 62 carries for 240 yards (3.87 YPC). Over his next six games, he had 52 carries for 95 yards (1.83 YPC). Fans had just about had it with Crowell's lack of productivity.

Over his final five games, though, he had 71 carries for 371 yards (5.22 YPC). The Browns changed their run blocking philosophy during that stretch, which significantly cut down on the amount of times Crowell was being hit in the backfield. The offensive line also started to open one or two big holes a game, and much like any running back not named Trent Richardson, he was able to make defenses pay in those situations. Defenders have a tough time taking Crowell down once he builds up that head of steam.

That leaves us with a big question mark when it comes to Crowell entering the 2016 season. The good thing for him is that the Browns basically decided to ignore the running back position in free agency and the draft, which gives him the assurance he'll be one of the team's two featured backs to begin the season. The question mark is with respect to how the offensive line will run block.

The team lost two Pro Bowl-type players in Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz to free agency. With that said, for as well as those players were doing individually, as a team, the Browns' group of individual stars consistently struggled in run blocking. Perhaps some fresh blood (Cameron Erving, Alvin Bailey, or a rookie), along with a new coaching staff that includes a run-game coordinator, will help re-invent the team's ability to run the ball. As long as the offensive line can at least prevent the defense from penetrating into the backfield, Crowell has proven to be capable of having some quality touches on the ground.

Final Roster Odds: 99%

Today's poll asks who you think will have more rushing yards in 2016.