Three of the top-10 big-play running backs in the NFL wore brown and orange last year – more proof that the Cleveland Browns running backs are elite
According to Marcus Mosher, the managing editor at USA Sports Media Group, your Cleveland Browns have not only the No. 1 big play running back in the NFL in Nick Chubb, but also No. 7 in D’Ernest Johnson, and No. 9 in Kareem Hunt.
Three Browns running backs in the top-10? That’s truly remarkable and is a testament to the depth of talent in the offensive backfield and probably says a lot about the offensive line as well.
Mosher defines a big play as a running play of 10 yards or more or a pass reception of 20 yards or more. We could debate whether that’s a good definition or not. For example, why does it make a difference whether the gains are by land or via the air? Let’s think some more about that.
To meet Mosher’s criteria, the player also has to have had 100 touches. That excludes Demetric Felton, who the Browns list as a running back, although this fan believes he is truly more of a slot receiver. Felton had two pass receptions over 20 yards (a 33-yarder versus Houston and a 22-yarder versus the Bengals) and a 12-yard run versus Denver, making three big plays in 25 total touches. That’s 12%, which would have placed him in 14th place on this list, between Darrell Henderson and D’Andre Swift. That might constitute running back overkill.
Cleveland Browns running backs are on another level
But let’s come back to Nick Chubb. It wasn’t a fantastic season for Chubb, as he missed some time with injuries and was not at his best.
However, he was still unbelievable and explosive. This stat is not misleading in this way. Nick Chubb is a Cleveland superstar and if he stays healthy, he could wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Hunt also put up very strong numbers in 2021 despite having suffered a calf injury that caused him to miss significant time. Hunt was more likely to be targeted for a pass than Chubb, with 22 receptions in only 234 offensive snaps.
D’Ernest Johnson deserves special praise for his ability to use the linemen, pause just long enough for a hole to open up, and sort of bounce through it.
The offensive line was exceptional when Pro Bowler Jack Conklin was able to play and deserves some of the credit for the success of all three backs. But when Conklin went down, there was a weakness on the right side.
James Hudson III sometimes played like an NFL tackle and other times did not. Offensive linemen are hard to judge because they are always at various stages of recovery from the equivalent of a car wreck suffered the previous Sunday, and it is certainly possible that Hudson could develop into a more consistent player.
On the other hand, the Browns for sure have to replace uber-valuable center J.C. Tretter, who was a salary cap casualty. Heir apparent Nick Harris, former Seattle starter Ethan Pocic, and several other candidates will duke it out this summer until a successor is named.
The rest of the AFC North was not nearly as impressive. The next ranked big play back in this division was Joe Mixon of the Bengals at 28th, followed by Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers at 36th. Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman of the Ravens made the list at 46th and 48th, respectively.
All this running talent is awesome, and I really don’t doubt that it is real. However, I do have qualms about whether it’s now time to tear up the run-first offense and shift to a wide-open, deep strike offense. Apparently, that’s what the Browns will do, regarding the trade for Deshaun Watson as too good of an opportunity to pass up.
It’s like the Browns have had three full-size, top-of-the-line pickup trucks that were the envy of the neighborhood. Now, however, they went out and bought this super-fast Ferrari. Is that what they really needed?
They plan to still drive the pickup trucks, but they can’t drive two vehicles at once. Is life really going to be that much better now that the Ferrari has been added?