Browns 2014 outlook: The need for a feature back

Fozzy Whittaker had 79 yards on 28 carries (2.8 avg.) and caught 21 passes for 155 yards for the Browns this season. He also had two touchdowns, including the 35-yard run in the season finale.

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Editor’s note: Browns beat reporter Fred Greetham will break down the Browns roster on a position-by-position basis, with the second part looking at the running back position.

Running Backs (Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whittaker, Dion Lewis, Edwin Baker)

McGahee (6-0, 235, 32) — McGahee led the Browns in rushing–that’s not saying much–with just 377 yards on 138 carries. His 2.7 yards per carry was the lowest on the team. He had two of the Browns four rushing touchdowns. McGahee’s yardage totals were the lowest in his 10 NFL seasons playing.

Ogbonnaya (6-0, 225, 27) — Ogbonnaya started the season as the fullback but ended up being the jack-of-all-trades back. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry with 240 yards on 49 carries. He also finished third on the team in receptions with 48 catches for 343 yards, including two touchdowns.

Whittaker (5-10, 202, 24) — Whittaker was the back the Browns chose to keep over Bobby Rainey, who went on to be the Buccaneers leading rusher after being released by the Browns. Whittaker had 79 yards on 28 carries (2.8 avg.). Whittaker caught 21 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard touchdown in the season finale.

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Lewis (5-8, 195, 23) — It is obvious the front office had big plans for Lewis when he was acquired for last off-season. However, Lewis was lost for the season with a broken leg suffered in the preseason. Lewis had displayed some nifty moves and explosiveness before he was injured. When the Browns traded Trent Richardson after just two games, it was obvious Lewis was slated to have a big role because the front office saw the flaws in Richardson’s game.

Baker (5-8, 210, 22) — After being picked up from the Texans’ practice squad, Baker took full advantage of his opportunity when McGahee suffered a concussion. He scored two of the team’s four rushing touchdowns in his first two NFL games. He rushed for 64 yards against the Jets and 69 yards against the Steelers in the season finale and finished with 171 yards on 43 carries (4.0 avg.). He also caught eight passes for 57 yards. Baker showed enough to get a look for next season.

Summary: The Browns went to training camp with the perception that running back was one position the Browns had strength and depth. Richardson was expected to be the bell cow back with Lewis, Montario Hardesty , Brandon Jackson and Ogbonnaya the candidates. Lewis and Hardesty were injured in training camp and Jackson was waived, as was Hardesty after he recovered. Richardson was traded after two games leaving Ogbonnaya from the original group. The rest of the season the Browns scrambled with McGahee, Rainey, Whittaker and Baker. The Browns did not have one 100-yard rusher. McGahee had one game of 72 yards and Baker had 69- and 64-yards to finish the season.

Looking Ahead: The Browns must find a featured running back either through free agency, trade or the draft. The trade of Richardson provided a first-round pick, however, left the Browns without a featured back. Joe Banner’s history says the team will likely not use a first-round pick on a back as LeSean McCoy was drafted in the second-round while he was with the Eagles and prior to that Brian Westbrook was drafted even lower. McGahee was a stopgap and won’t return and the next coach will have to determine if Baker, Whittaker and Ogbonnaya meet his criteria. Even if the Browns want to have a running back by committee, they need to get a lead back. It would also help the running game if they had a fullback, which last year’s team did not have.

(In part 3 of our position analysis, we’ll next take a look at the wide receiver position)