In Part 2 of our RB preview, we look at the competition between George Atkinson, Matthew Dayes, and Terrence Magee for the Cleveland Browns’ third running back spot on the depth chart. Note: Part 1 looked at Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson.
3. George Atkinson III - Backup RB / Kick Return Option
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 220 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 2 years | College: Notre Dame
After final roster cuts were made in 2016, the Browns claimed five players off waivers, with Atkinson being one of them and perhaps the most buzz-worthy name at the time. He was known as a lightning-fast runner who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders back in 2014. Last preseason, Atkinson lit up the stat sheet for Oakland, carrying the ball 19 times for 191 yards (10.1 YPC) and 3 touchdowns, and 6 catches for 60 yards. He also returned 1 kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown.
Atkinson's exclusive role to begin the season was as the team's kick returner. Like most kick returners in the NFL these days, the kickoff rules made it very difficult for him to really impact the game as a returner. Thus, Atkinson was not impressive in his 8 returns for 137 yards (17.1 average). He lost the role by the end of the year to WR Mario Alford, who in just three games had 8 returns for 190 yards (23.8 average).
The Browns stuck almost exclusively with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson all season with respect to carries. When both backs were briefly out for a series in Week 4, Hue Jackson made the criticized decision to use then-FB Malcolm Johnson as a running back against the Redskins. Johnson fumbled, killing the team's momentum. It wasn’t until Week 17 that Atkinson finally got involved in the offense, thanks to (Duke) Johnson being a bit banged up.
Against the Steelers in Week 17, Atkinson had 7 carries for 34 yards (4.9 YPC) and 1 touchdown. That rushing touchdown had to make Johnson think, "Are you kidding me?", because he was only able to manage 1 rushing touchdown all season. Atkinson showed some skills in limited action, but the third running back on the depth chart is expected to be a true competition with no real favorite.
Both Atkinson and second-round pick DeShone Kizer played for Notre Dame, but their collegiate careers did not cross paths.
Final Roster Odds: 55%
4. Matthew Dayes - Rookie 7th Round Pick
Height: 5-8 | Weight: 205 lbs | Age: 22
Experience: Rookie | College: N.C. State
Dayes was the Browns’ final pick of the draft, and was the second-to-last pick of the entire 2017 NFL Draft. Since he was practically an undrafted free agent, the team’s investment in him (as is the case with most 7th round picks) should be treated as if he was an undrafted free agent.
Dayes doesn't have great speed nor any kind of exceptional strength to break tackles. Scouting reports have him as an effective one-cut runner with good vision and acceleration. Here’s an example of that:
NC State RB Matthew Dayes tied a career high by forcing 9 MTs against Notre Dame as the standout offensive player in the game. pic.twitter.com/dqlJy4Us1L— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 8, 2016
His best asset comes down to his receiving ability, which would make him a candidate to be a third-down back if the team didn't already use Duke Johnson in that role. Dayes’ best shot at making the roster is if he shows he’s not only polished as a receiving back, but that he’s the best blocking back of the bunch too.
Final Roster Odds: 35%
5. Terrence Magee - Backup Running Back
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 220 lbs | Age: 24
Experience: 2 years | College: LSU
At the beginning of June, the Browns waived RB Darius Jackson and signed Magee to take his roster spot. Magee was undrafted in 2015, signing his first contract with the Baltimore Ravens. In 2016, he competed for a training camp spot with the Los Angeles Rams. He actually made his way to Cleveland’s practice squad last October, where he spent a couple of months before the Seattle Seahawks signed him to their active roster.
In two seasons of action, Magee has registered 5 carries for 17 yards. Here is a brief assessment that DBN’s apocrylle did on him a few weeks ago:
Based on Combine performance, Magee is a below average athlete and was reported to have run a 4.65 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. While a quick look at college film shows a runner who is not outstanding in any particular way, Magee was enthusiastic in pass protection and has experience playing wide receiver, so he is presumably competent in the passing game.
A user pointed out an old quote from the Baltimore Sun in which Magee said, “I’m an all-around back and my biggest attribute is my ability to play on third downs, protect the quarterback, and win matchups with linebackers. I have all-around skills.” If that is what he prides himself on, then he could be in the same type of competition with Dayes. The whole concept of a blocking back might be moot for Cleveland, though, if they decide to keep fullback Danny Vitale, who we will be previewing on Thursday.
Final Roster Odds: 10%
Our poll today asks about which of the three players you’d most like to see make the Browns roster.
If only one of these running backs could make the Browns’ roster, who would you want it to be?
This poll is closed