TAMPA BAY -- The Browns are fortunate to have one of the better offensive lines in football. You'd think that would mean some killer stats for their running backs.
Through three weeks of preseason games there's not a lot of clarity as to how the Browns will utilize their top three running backs, nor tipped their hand as to who their best back is.
The parade continued against the Bucs on Saturday. Rookie Duke Johnson started and was in and out over five snaps until he went up for a Josh McCown pass that sailed high and was leveled by Buccaneers cornerback Mike Jenkins. The hit was so hard Johnson's mouth guard flew out. He suffered a concussion and didn't return to the game.
"It was the biggest disappointment of the night," Pettine said of Johnson's injury.
Before he got hurt, Isaiah Crowell (nine snaps) and Terrance West (eight) rotated with Johnson, each getting more work than him. After the Johnson injury Crowell took 11 more snaps and West contributed nine. Pretty much an even split between them.
It gets better, and by better I don't really mean better. Crowell finished his playing time with 25 yards on seven carries and 12 yards on two catches, highlighted by a 10-yard jaunt where the aforementioned O-line blasted their best hole of the night, wide enough for a tractor to rumble through untouched. West had a similar 26 yards on seven carries, helped by a 17-yard run, adding a 5-yard catch.
Through three preseason games Crowell has 45 yards on 16 carries and 18 yards on three catches while West has 78 yards on 22 carries and 11 yards on three receptions. Neither one has scored, much less averaged 4.0 yards per carry.
These scintillating stats should make every Fantasy owner fawn over the Browns' running back choices. Or, more appropriately, the opposite.
Here's where things somehow get <i>worse</i>: there's seemingly no set plan as to how the Browns will split up their backs' carries. On the Browns' first possession it was West who was in the game in goal-to-go situations. Johnson's pop came in the red zone on their second possession. On their next red-zone visit Crowell was in the game.
It's like Kindergarten. Everyone gets a turn. The mixing and matching will only get more complicated once Johnson gets healthy, whenever that is.
If a guess had to be made on how the Browns' run game would look at the start of the year, it would be that Crowell would be the primary back with West backing him up. No running downs guy, no passing downs guy. Crowell with the bulk and West mixing in.
The Browns start the year at the Jets, vs. the Titans, vs. the Raiders and at the Chargers, so there are some opportunities for Crowell to get off to a quick start. But who knows if he's going to be the weapon we hope he can be, and once Johnson comes back you have to figure the team will utilize him. It makes their two-man-for-now, three-man-for-later run game unpredictable and unfortunately, unreliable.
Crowell is safest when chosen in Round 7 or 8 when the running backs get thin, but not before. There's just too many fingers in this Browns running back pie. Duke Johnson is worth a late-round pick as is Terrance West. Johnson has more sleeper appeal if you can afford to be patient.
All in all, it's not what Fantasy owners want, and it's not what that offensive line deserves.