The Cleveland Browns advertised this dynamic offense going into the 2023 season that might possibly get away from their strong running attack and air it out.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, they have relied on what has worked in the past and have run the ball effectively. With Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb, the Browns were plugging along nicely behind their dependable offensive line.
Then, Chubb’s knee injury on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, he is lost of the year. It had been discussed whether the Browns needed to go ahead and ink a more experienced running back for the season prior to the injury.
In his stead was last year’s fifth-round draft pick Jerome Ford who before Monday Night had been the primary kickoff return man. Suddenly, Ford was thrust into the starting RB slot and played a good game gaining 106 yards on 16 carries with a 6.6 yards per carry average in just three quarters of work. Of course, that 69-yard reverse field scamper he gained helped out that average.
Another second-year back, Pierre Strong, made his Cleveland debut and scored a touchdown in the second quarter right after Ford’s long run.
Today, these two players consist of the Browns running back room. A pair of second-year players. Should Cleveland sign another back? If so, one with NFL starting experience, or an RB that can slide into that RB3 position?
Another question that is also critical: Do the Browns want to sign a running back who is the current and future starter?
Here are five to consider.
John Kelly, Jr. (5’-10”, 205 pounds)
He has been with the Browns for the past three seasons but did not survive the final cutdown and is currently unemployed. The training period by signing Kelly would be short since he already knows the system, the playbook, his teammates, plus Kevin Stefanski’s scheme.
The question to signing Kelly is this: At this point, do the Browns want to sign a running back for that third slot, or do they want a guy to come in and take Chubb’s role as the starter? This would regulate Ford back to RB2 and come into the game as needed.
If Cleveland is satisfied with Ford being the starter and Strong as his backup, then Kelly would fill in nicely as the third back.
Kelly has just 13 NFL appearances with zero starts, 32 carries for 96 yards and zero scores. If the Browns are looking for a guy with NFL pedigree and a ton of starts, then Kelly is out of the running. He is strictly a RB3 candidate and will come cheap.
David Johnson (6’-1”, 224 pounds)
Johnson was used sparingly in his last two seasons so he is fresh. He has been a highly productive back during his eight-year career. He is currently a free agent.
His durability is good as he has had some wrist and finger issues, but his last medical situation was a concussion in November of 2020.
Johnson would be used this season as a band-aid and not the starter going forward after Chubb’s recovery. He has gained 4,071 yards on 1,007 carries with 39 touchdowns and 225 first-down runs. He is also a very good receiver which is crucial in this Browns offense. His career stats are 277 receptions for 2,805 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 40 time is 4.5.
He is a bruising type of back similar to Chubb and Ford and is a good blocker. Last year he was on a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints for $1.12 million.
Kareem Hunt (5’-11”, 216 pounds)
This one makes the most sense. Hunt is familiar with the Browns as the coaching staff is with him. He is an NFL starting-caliber player who will simply be plugged in.
Hunt has had his share of injuries himself which is a mild concern. His last issue was an ankle concern in 2021. His speed has tapered off a bit since he ran a 4.57 on his pro day as a college senior. Was the NFL rushing leader for one-and-one-half seasons before his suspension and release from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Has 4,025 rushing yards on 895 carries with 31 touchdowns. Hunt is a good receiver with 1,806 yards on 211 receptions. His blocking is just so, but he gives maximum effort. Has had interest from the New Orleans Saints and Colts.
Hunt has lost some burst but still remains elusive. He runs with good vision and overall instincts.
His salary would be the only sticking point. His 2022 cap hit was $6.25 million and was one of the reasons he wasn’t re-signed. Now that he has remained unemployed, perhaps a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $2-$3 million is attainable.
Cam Akers (5’-10”, 217 pounds)
The Los Angeles Rams have attempted to move Akers for their second year, and this time around it appears they are dead set on trading the talented back who was taken in the second round in 2020. He runs a 4.47 in the 40.
Akers does have a fumbling issue on occasion as he has lost three in his four seasons but none this year. Has good hands as evidenced by his 27 receptions for 250 yards and one score. His rushing numbers are 360 carries for 1.443 yards, 10 touchdowns with a 4.0 yards per carry average.
Sources: Several teams have checked in with the #Rams about a potential Cam Akers trade - including the #Buccaneers, #Ravens, #Raiders and #Browns - among others.— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) September 19, 2023
It’s still possible Akers gets released (salary reasons), but the team is actively shopping him and he’s more than… pic.twitter.com/ZZ3KZJJIvD
Despite his trade rumors, last season he was the most productive gaining 786 yards on 188 carries with seven touchdowns. As far as durability, he underwent surgery in July of 2021 for an Achilles tear, considered the worst possible injury for a running back. However, he was in a walking boot in only one month while rehabbing. Normally a 9–12 month rehab process, Akers was able to play in less than six months and won a Super Bowl ring.
Akers runs with tempo and flow but alters his rush attack at a moment’s notice. He has above-average open-field vision but is a finisher. His ball security issues in college did flow over into the professional ranks. He has powerful legs and is an instinctive runner. Is a good pass blocker. In the final three games in 2022 he gained over 100 yards in each. Has 15 starts and played in 30 games.
Currently, Akers is playing in the final year of his rookie contract and has a cap hit of $1.964 million. Most likely a sixth-round pick for Akers.
James Robinson (5-9”, 218 pounds)
Was an All-American in his senior year and was voted a Three-Time First Team All-MVF Conference. As a rookie, he was named to the PFWA NFL All-Rookie Team as he gained 1,070 yards. His speed is not great with a 4.64 time in the 40, but he has a good feel for run-lane development. His burst is just average but has good feet and gap vision.
Robinson was traded to the New York Jets after Breece Hall was injured last year. He was in the New York Football Giants camp this year but was a last-day cutdown. The Indianapolis Colts have expressed interest in him lately.
Is a good receiver as well. Has 91 receptions for 617 yards with five touchdowns. His rushing yards are 514 attempts for 2,262 yards with 18 scores and a 4.4 yards per carry average.
Has some durability issues mainly with heel and ankle. Last year with the Jets Robinson made $895,000 so the value is there and is still a young man.
What should the Browns do with the RB room?
Keep Jerome Ford as the starter
Trade for Cam Akers
Sign Kareem Hunt
Sign David Johnson
Sign James Robinson
Sign a RB not profiled - List your suggestion in the comments section
Use Ford, Strong, Kelly