AFC North Positional Rankings: Running Back

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Dec 14, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

4. Cleveland Browns

RB1: Isaiah Crowell (4th among starters)

RB2: Terrance West (2nd among backups)

RB3: Duke Johnson

FB: Malcolm Johnson (4th among fullbacks)

The Cleveland Browns have a solid but unexciting running game highlighted by sophomore running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The duo rushed for a total of 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 20 receptions and a receiving touchdown.

With such average production from the duo of running backs in 2014, Cleveland added Duke Johnson, an electric back out of the University of Miami in the third round of the 2015 draft. Crowell and West provided a serviceable but unexciting running game in 2014, but Johnson could prove to be the complete opposite. While Wilbert Montgomery, the Browns’ running backs coach, has gone on record in saying that “no one wants to be the bell-cow” in Cleveland, he has been taking a long, hard look at Duke Johnson. And from what Johnson has been showing, it looks as though Montgomery will be considering him to be the team’s featured running back.

While Johnson can provide excitement to a unit that was so unexciting in 2014, he is still an unproven, third round rookie. Browns fans certainly hope that the Miami product will join fellow alumni Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Lamar Miller as a productive NFL running back, but only time will tell whether he can accomplish this. Cleveland has a solid offensive line and an improving passing game, so Johnson should have every opportunity to seize the job and become an NFL success.

The Cleveland Browns don’t have much of a successful track record when it comes to running backs; the last running back to run for at least 1,000 yards was Peyton Hillis, back in 2010. The last first-round running back to be drafted by the Browns, Trent Richardson, is now playing for his third team in his fifth season after averaging 3.3 yards per carry in his first four seasons. The only major positive that has come out of the Browns’ running game in the past five years is that Cleveland was able to swap Richardson for a first-round pick from the Indianapolis Colts, which essentially traded Richardson for Johnny Manziel. And even that trade doesn’t look like it has panned out for Cleveland (although it does still have a chance to work out). Even the team’s fullback, Malcolm Johnson, is the worst fullback of the four players at the position in the AFC North. Cleveland can’t seem to catch a break.

The jury is out on Cleveland’s top three running backs; they all possess the talent to become Cleveland’s bell-cow. However, someone is going to have to step up and make plays in the running game this season, and so far, none of these three running backs have been overly impressive. While Cleveland could ultimately resort to a committee-styled approach, it would much rather see one of these three backs emerge and become a quality starter. We’ll see what happens in the upcoming season; until then, keep an eye out on these three running backs in preseason action. Chances are that at least one of these three backs will impress and earn the starting job before the team’s Week 1 opener against the Washington Redskins.

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