Cleveland Browns: Dion Lewis

Ben Tate doesn’t see a ton of competition for the Cleveland Browns starting running back spot.

He clearly believes the job is his. In the offseason, Tate, who brings a bit of a 'tude to the arena after signing as a free agent, said there’s nobody in the running back room who scares him.

Interesting, because the Browns are tremendously high on rookie Terrance West. West begins camp on the non-football injury list because he failed his conditioning test, but he is expected to be working on Saturday -- along with several other NFI players.

Tate, by his own admission, is penciled in as the starter. But West showed a lot of quickness and ability to plant and hit the hole in offseason work. That may not sound like much, but in the zone blocking system that stretches a play out, being decisive in mind and action is important.

Tate and West, barring an injury, will be the Browns' running back hydra, with the starter determined by who is playing best when camp ends. Tate is ahead, West has the opportunity to catch up.

It almost seems like the Browns will enter camp preparing to use both backs a lot. When asked about the spot, coach Mike Pettine said he would be interested to see how it played out for the third back spot.

Edwin Baker, Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis figure to be the main competitors there.

Baker finished 2013 as the starter, which says something about the team’s dedication to the run game. Lewis was the story of training camp in 2013 before getting hurt. And Crowell caught the coach and GM’s eye in the offseason as an undrafted free agent.

The most encouraging thing is that the run game is being discussed as a viable, important part of the team. A year ago, it was, at best, an afterthought.

“I want to always have the ability to run the football,” Pettine said. “You’re in Northeast Ohio. Look at the division and a lot of your games are going to be played in not-so-great weather. If you run the ball well, that means you have a good offensive line, and if you have a good offensive line, you can also protect your quarterback.

“If you run the ball well, it also minimizes what the quarterback has to do. Put the best quarterbacks in the league constantly in third-and-7-plus, they’re not going to be among the best quarterbacks in the league anymore. If you put them in third-and-2 to third-and-5, you’re going to convert one heck of a lot more.”
Lost: Willis McGahee

Added: Ben Tate, FA from Houston

Extra points: Tate’s signing was a key move that had domino effect in that it now allows the Browns to be selective with how they fortify the position. It would be a shock if the Browns don’t add another back in the draft to go with Tate, Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker, but they can do it when they want and not be forced. A complementary back to go with Tate makes the Browns better.

Draft likelihood: High, but not necessarily in the high rounds.

Then there's this ...

Last RB drafted by the Browns: Trent Richardson, third overall in 2012.

Last first-round RB: Richardson.

Last RB taken fourth overall: Darren McFadden, by the Raiders in 2008.

Last three RBs taken fourth: McFadden, Cedric Benson (2004), Edgerrin James (1999).

Last RB taken 26th overall: Chris Perry, by Cincinnati in 2004.

Last three RBs taken 26th: Perry, Cleveland Gary(1989), Reggie Dupard (1986).

2014 Free agents: Willis McGahee.

The good: There is a lot of salary cap room and an opportunity for a back to contribute. The Browns have no running back, unless they believe Edwin Baker’s last three games make him the next Adrian Peterson. Joe Banner touted Dion Lewis as one of the “excellent additions” who were injured, but Lewis has to prove he can play and contribute for a full season and he’s not a training camp player.

The bad: There is no running back, and hasn’t been since the trade of Trent Richardson, who went from 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie to the junk heap and nearly unusable in Indianapolis. The Richardson trade garnered the Browns a first-round pick, which is good, but the Browns may have to use a high pick or some of their salary cap space to add a credible back.

The money: Not an issue here. Chris Ogbonnaya, Dion Lewis, Fozzy Whittaker and Baker all make less than $750,000 under the salary cap.

Draft priority: High. Though the Browns clearly seem to be one of the teams in the new age that does not believe in drafting a running back in the first or second round. If the Browns took a back in the first round, it would mean they gave up a former first-round back to draft another first-round back. Logic says the team should think of one in the second or third round, but that does not seem to be the Browns approach.

Previous positions: Quarterback.