Browns' running back options for 2014

When discussing potential long-term replacements for Trent Richardson earlier this week (see below), I zeroed in on Texans backup Ben Tate as a quality free-agent fit. It sounds like the Browns are in agreement.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Sunday NFL Countdown this morning that, "Cleveland already has its eyes on a replacement for Richardson. The Browns covet Texas running back Ben Tate, whose contract expires after the season, and will be aggressive in bringing him to Cleveland. Should Cleveland throw the money it takes to land him, it then would have Indianapolis' draft pick in place of Richardson and Tate, an idea the organization thought of this week when it made the deal to send Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts."

Read on for some other potential answers via the draft, should the Browns not secure Tate via free agency.


In the short term, the Cleveland Browns are going to have a tough time replacing former No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson following his trade to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday. They have only two running backs on the roster at the moment (Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya), though it sounds like they could add aging free agent Willis McGahee to the mix soon. Those backs don't offer the Browns much hope this season, but with a fistful of draft picks for 2014, we should expect them to aim for their running back of the future via the draft or free agency.

It seems clear that Browns CEO Joe Banner is going to build the team the way he wants. That includes Wednesday's shocker of a trade and, apparently, not overvaluing running backs.

"Heard in offseason that Banner would never have drafted an RB that high, thought it was dumb. Guess that was the case," tweeted Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Presumably, that also means he won't overpay for a free agent next offseason, when the likes of Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashard Mendenhall are unrestricted free agents. All three of them have battled injuries in recent years, which seemingly makes them less intriguing as a long-term solution. One player to keep an eye on is Houston Texans backup Ben Tate. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, too, and could be worth an investment if Banner thinks he's the right fit in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system under coach Rob Chudzinski.

If Banner didn't like the idea of taking a running back No. 3 overall, it's not clear at what point he would find it reasonable to take one. In ESPN NFL Insider Todd McShay's most recent look at the top 32 prospects for the '14 draft, he had Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas as the top-ranked RB at No. 19. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey was next at No. 27.

Much will change between now and the draft, but perhaps Banner will aim for a sleeper pick later in the draft to find his long-term replacement for Richardson. After diminutive rookie Giovani Bernard made some noise on Monday night, Scouts, Inc.'s Steve Muench took a look at some comparable players we should see in the '14 draft. That includes the aforementioned Carey and Tennessee's Rajion Neal, who may offer the size and skills to help the Browns:

Steve Muench

MNF Review: Cincy's impact rookies

"Neal graded out as a Day 3 pick compared to Carey, who graded out as a Day 2 pick in the preseason. Here’s why. He entered the 2012 season with 229 career carries, so his resume isn’t as accomplished as Bernard’s or Carey’s. And in 2013, he’s coming off an underwhelming performance against Oregon. While he’s the biggest back (5-11, 212 pounds) of the three and he, too, finishes his runs, he still doesn’t have great power. He tends to run with a narrow base, making it easier for defenders to knock him off balance and get him to the ground. It's better to be aggressive than indecisive, but he can show more patience at times. Still, Neal doesn't just lower his head and run straight ahead. In fact, his lateral quickness and start-stop ability are impressive. He can make defenders miss in the hole and break defenders’ ankles in space. He’s also a sprinter for the Tennessee track team and shows good though not elite top-end speed on tape. Neal isn’t a proven return man, either, but he has experience lining up at receiver and can make an immediate impact in the passing game."