As the 2015 NFL Draft rapidly approaches, the team here at Cleveland Sports Zone will be going position by position to analyze potential fits for the Cleveland Browns. Unlike a number of “Top 5” lists out there for the draft season, we will key in on players throughout the draft—not just the Top 5 available.
The first position we will examine is one that has been more heavily discussed of late (a surprise to many), running back. Before we get into the five fits from the 2015 NFL Draft class, it is important to take a look at the running back situation currently on the roster to properly define the need for taking one in this class—if there is even a need.
RBs Currently on the Roster:
Terrance West: 3rd Round Pick 2014 NFL Draft.
Isaiah Crowell: Undrafted FA 2014 NFL Draft.
Shaun Draughn: Signed in December, re-signed to a one-year deal in March of 2015.
Glenn Winston: Claimed off waivers from 49ers in August of 2014.
Starting with West, general manager Ray Farmer actually traded back into round three to take the now 24-year old out of Towson last season. Defined as one of the best “one-cut and go” runners in the draft by many, West burst onto the scene in the very first game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers—carrying the ball 16 times for 100 yards.
Despite the presence of key free agent acquisition, Ben Tate, West made quite the name for himself early on in 2014. He ripped off 100 yards on 16 carries against the Steelers, and accumulated 47 total carries in his first three career games—scoring two touchdowns in the process. However, he would register just 19 carries over his next three games and eventually be forced to sit out a game altogether later in the season, as rumors circled stating he was in head coach Mike Pettine’s “dog house.” West would finish the 2014 season with 673 yards and four touchdowns on 171 carries.
Next up is Crowell, who was actually listed in an article just like this last season. Coming literally out of nowhere in terms of draft position (undrafted), Crowell would finish 2014 with 607 yards and eight touchdowns on 148 carries. For those who do not watch college football, you were likely surprised an undrafted free agent carried the ball 12 or more times in six of the team’s final eight games. However, Crowell was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and looked like a sure-fire first-round pick during his freshman season at Georgia before off-the-field problems forced him to transfer to Alabama State.
So after one season, it appears the Cleveland Browns have quite the duo in the “Baby Backs,” which leaves many to ask—why is the team looking at RBs in the 2015 NFL Draft? Well, the two are not without their questions marks that is why. Both were not asked to catch the ball out of the backfield much (a staple of their new offensive coordinator), both are unproven in pass protection, Crowell has ball concern issues and West would like timid at times (aside from being in the coach’s doghouse).
The next two guys, Draughn and Winston present an intriguing dynamic—as both have been in the league a couple of years and though they have not been handed a major workload, both are well-versed in the needs of the Browns system. While their role moving forward is unknown, neither should really stop the Browns from drafting a RB this season.
Now that we understand the Browns current RB situation, it is time to take a look at the five prospects Browns fans should get to know a little more about. Do not get me wrong, Farmer and the team could shock everyone and take Todd Gurley based on sheer talent alone—but these five players are more realistic fits should the Browns decide to add a RB in this class.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State, 6’0” and 208 pounds, 3rd Round Projection
Recently listed in Sam Ingro’s “Diamonds in the Rough” article here on the site, Langford embodies everything that people have come to love of running backs from Michigan State. For his career, Langford carried the ball 577 times for 2,967 yards and 40 touchdowns—with all but nine carries for 23 yards coming during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He is also a threat in the receiving game, as he caught 39 passes for 219 yards and had one touchdown.
When you watch Langford on film, you see a tough runner with very good balance. He has the type of vision that is absolutely necessary in a zone-blocking scheme, as he identifies the hole quickly and gets moving north-south before defenders can collapse the holes created by the line. Langford is also very difficult to bring down on first contact (like another certain Spartan running back playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers), and isn’t afraid to show this physicality when the ball isn’t in his hands—as he is an above-average blocker in pass protection.
Langford could use some refinement in pass blocking and could stand to allow holes to develop just a tad more, but he is further along in both of those elements than West and Crowell. On top of that, he just does not fumble the ball (only five fumbles in his career)—so he could be a much more reliable option than the two youngsters on the roster. Oh, and the Browns also had a meeting with him at the Senior Bowl as well.
Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn, 5’10” and 212 pounds, 4th Round Projection
An older back in this draft class at 24-years old, Payne burst onto the scene last year for the Auburn Tigers. He carried the ball 303 times for 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns—adding in another 147 yards on 13 catches in the receiving game. For his two-year career at Auburn, Payne carried the ball 394 times for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Someone the Browns had a confirmed visit with at his Pro Day, Artis-Payne is an intriguing option in this class. He showed the ability to be a workhorse if necessary last year, and doesn’t have a lot of tread on the tires. He is a very physical and tough runner, especially in what is widely considered the best conference in all of college football. He has better burst than some are willing to give him credit for because of his 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine (I’m a bigger fan of game speed anyways), and does not hesitate at the point of attack—basically, when he sees daylight, he puts his head down and goes for it.
One thing about Artis-Payne that is a concern, especially if the Browns are looking at this as a main trait, is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He did have some drops on film, and was not asked to do a lot in terms of running various routes. With a fourth-round projection, if he falls to the fifth round or later—the Browns should consider him there.
Matt Jones, Florida, 6’2” and 231 pounds, 5th/6th Round Projection
Jones is one of the more underrated RB prospects in this class in my opinion, and it likely has a lot to do with two things. First off, he did not blow anyone away with his 4.61 40-yard dash at the combine. Secondly, he played for an awful offensive team during his collegiate career—rushing the ball just 297 times for 817 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also added in 19 catches for 100 yards and one touchdown.
With numbers like those, I can understand why you are a little skeptical right about now—but there is a lot to like about Jones. First off, when you watch him on film he literally looks like a young Marshawn Lynch when he runs the ball. He is a powerful, downhill runner who has a very good first step. Jones is also very decisive with good vision, as he sees holes well and isn’t afraid to take on multiple defenders and continue to fight forward for extra yards.
Though not utilized often, you notice that Jones has a good touch for catching passes out of the backfield. He is also solid in pass protection (see below GIFs as he gives his QB extra time with some pretty tough blocks, one on top edge prospect Bud Dupree), carrying over his physicality from running the ball to being physical with pass rushers.
So why isn’t he being rated higher? Some are concerned about his lack of “home run” speed and that he tried to bounce too many runs outside the tackles—something that absolutely cannot happen in the Browns system. With a 5th/6th round projection, if he is there when the Browns are picking with any of their three total picks in those rounds—Farmer and company should jump all over the 21-year old.
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State, 5’8” and 217 pounds, 5th/6th Round Projection
Staying in the SEC, Robinson is another runner to keep an eye on in this class. His compact “bowling ball” type of running style will remind many of Ray Rice, without the off-the-field problems. In three seasons with the Bulldogs, Robinson rushed the ball 323 times for 1,997 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is also an absolute asset in the passing game, as he caught 43 passes for 493 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield.
When you watch Robinson on film, the first thing that stands out is how he is constantly driving forward with his strong legs. He is an absolute nightmare to bring down on first contact, and has solid burst (not to be confused with his 4.70 40-yard dash speed at the combine). He also has solid vision and the ability to change direction if a hole is closed quickly. On top of that, his natural pass catching ability is a major plus.
Unlike some of the others on this list, Robinson will dance from time to time despite a hole being there. This indecisiveness will remind some of former Browns first-round pick, Trent Richardson, but you are not utilizing a first-round pick on the 22-year old. He is also a little shaky in pass protection despite his ability to catch the ball and do things with it out of the backfield.
If Robinson is available in the 6th round, the Browns should absolutely give him a look.
Corey Grant, Auburn, 5’9” and 201 pounds, 7th round/Undrafted
With Farmer striking gold last year with Crowell as an undrafted free agent, Grant could be another player to fit that mold. Posting a 4.28 40-yard dash in his workout, Grant has the speed to be a home run threat waiting to happen if he can carve out the opportunity at the NFL level.
Transferring from Alabama to Auburn, Grant never really found his way to the top of the depth chart at Auburn thanks to Tre Mason and Artis-Payne. In three seasons at Auburn, he carried the ball 135 times for 1,040 yards and 14 touchdowns—adding in 14 receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown as a receiver.
Overshadowed on the depth chart, he never found his way out of the Mason/Artis-Payne shadows on offense, but he was a major asset on kick returns last season, returning 18 kicks for 403 yards. For his career, Grant had 23 returns for 563 yards and one touchdown. With the Browns continued issues in the return game, taking a flier on a running back with 4.28 speed and proven kick returning abilities in the 7th round or as a priority free agent could pay off in a big way.
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