Cleveland Browns: Beanie Wells and the Top Five Running Backs to Look at After Losing Dion Lewis

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Updated: August 17, 2013

By Bob Evans
Senior Writer

When the Cleveland Browns entered training camp this season, one of the team’s clear strengths on the depth chart was the running back position. With Trent Richardson leading the way, the Browns assembled a depth chart that could go five deep at the position—mainly because of Richardson’s injuries early in his career. The team was so deep at the position, they decided to move Chris Ogbonnaya to fullback to ensure he could stay on the roster.

However, the Browns have been bitten by the injury bug at running back in a bad way this week. First, the team lost oft-injured Montario Hardesty (no shock there) for a couple of weeks due to knee surgery. Then, they were dealt a major blow on Thursday night when Dion Lewis fractured his fibula in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Lewis, acquired in the offseason from the Philadelphia Eagles, had climbed his way into the No. 2 running back on the depth chart position already in camp—as many expected him to fill the “change of pace” role to Richardson’s power style of running.

With Hardesty and Lewis now out for the foreseeable future, the Browns are left with Brandon Jackson and Miguel Maysonet behind Richardson. The team could also choose to move Ogbonnaya back from fullback, however, he was finally showing flashes in last night’s game and the depth chart behind him doesn’t exactly feature a real lead blocker for Richardson and the other running backs. While Jackson and Maysonet have been pleasant surprises thus far in camp, Jackson also has an injury history and Maysonet has yet to show whether or not he can be a running back at the NFL level.

As the Browns enter Week 3 of the preseason, the team will have to make a decision quickly on the running back position. There are plenty of experienced options on the free agent market for the team to look into, but there are also a couple of hidden gems in free agency or on other rosters that may not make the cut. The following are five players the Browns should consider bringing into the mix.

Beanie Wells, Free Agent

Most people out there are going to scream for the likes of Willis McGahee or Michael Turner, however, they just do not fit the mold of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi. Although he has had an injury history of his own, Wells has proven he can catch the ball out of the backfield and also be explosive when healthy. During his four-year career, Wells has rushed the ball 625 times for 2,471 yards and 24 touchdowns—including a 1,047-yard and 10 touchdown season in 2011. Not to mention it would appease the Ohio State Buckeyes fans out there as well.

Javon Ringer, Free Agent

As the backup to Chris Johnson in Tennessee for the majority of his career, Ringer has not gotten much publicity. In 37 games, Ringer has rushed the ball 120 times for 486 yards and three touchdowns while catching 38 passes for 243 yards. At 5’9” and 213 pounds, Ringer is of smaller stature like Lewis, however, he can run the ball with power and toughness. He isn’t exactly a speed back, but he can certainly provide depth.

Chris Rainey, Free Agent

If the Browns want change of pace, look no further than the former 2012 fifth-round pick out of Florida. Let go by the Pittsburgh Steelers following a battery charge in January, Rainey still remains unsigned. He ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL combine, and possesses sprinter speed. He rushed the ball 26 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, and also caught 14 passes for 60 yards. If his personal life is in order, he could be the perfect explosive option this offense needs after losing Lewis.

Terrance Ganaway, St. Louis Rams

Ganaway is a bigger back at 6’0” and 239 pounds and is currently on the St. Louis Rams roster. He was originally selected by the New York Jets in the 2012 NFL Draft, however, was a training camp cut. He has been with the Rams since September of 2012, but St. Louis has 2012 rookie Isaiah Pead and 2013 rookie Zac Stacy ahead of him on the roster, and all three are behind Daryl Richardson. While Ganaway isn’t a burner by any means, he was highly successful in the shotgun offense ran by Robert Griffin III at Baylor in 2011, racking up 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. If he is cut, the Browns should keep their eye on him.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos

Since bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2009, Moreno’s career has been up and down. As a rookie, Moreno rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. Since then, he has played in just 28 games and rushed for just 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons. Thanks to a torn ACL, Moreno seemingly lost control of the starting running back situation in Denver. McGahee emerged as a better option in 2011, and now the Broncos have Ronnie Hillman listed ahead of him on the depth chart. Add in the fact Denver just drafted Wisconsin bruiser Montee Ball, and the writing could finally be on the wall for the versatile back out of Georgia.

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3 Comments

  1. Bob Evans

    August 18, 2013 at 1:57 am

    MJM,

    I answered your question not too long ago in my opinion. While I’m not part of the front office, I think it is more of a system fit they are looking for, and Leach doesn’t have the versatility they want. If they wanted a traditional fullback, they could have signed Leach or even Lawrence Vickers–who is still a free agent. Especially in Vickers’ case, Chud knows exactly what he has in him since Vickers was his starting fullback in 2007 and went to the Pro Bowl under him in 2008. If you look at some of the fullbacks Turner and Chud had in San Diego and Carolina, you are talking about guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Mike Tolbert played for both of them with the Chargers and again last season in Carolina with Chud, in five seasons Tolbert has CAUGHT 136 passes for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns. In Leach’s career of eight years he has just 749 yards and four TDs receiving.

    I really cannot offer you anymore explanation than that, but also, how do we even know Leach was interested in coming to Cleveland? There has to be mutual interest between the parties to work a deal, and a veteran like Leach knows someone will want his services…and with all due respect to Cleveland, where would you want to go as a 30-plus guy? A rebuilding team or a team that just won the Super Bowl last season?

    • MJM

      August 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm

      Well, Bob, very good points, as usual. I was using Leach as an example. In any event when I wrote my post Leach had just recently re-signed with Baltimore for abt $3.75M over two years.

      Would Leach have signed w the Browns for this amount? Your assessment on this is peobably spot on, but we will never know for sure now. And we will never know if Chud petitioned for Vickers, but was turned down with the instruction to use the pkayers he has been given.

      As a side thought, your stats regarding Leach’s catches sounds suspiciously sabermetric-like. What gives? The point should not be how many catches did he have over the time span you outlined, but his ability to catch balls thrown to him by Weeden in this offense. And his ability to contribute in other ways.

      However, the Browns lost a runnung back, the backup change of pace RB, not a FB? So, to comment on the list of potential replacements you outlined, my son and I would go with Ringer. He reminds me of a Barnidge-type player with untapped potential. While probably having the same upside as Rainey, he has not been arrested.

      However as I write this, my son just informed me that the Browns resigned the undrafted FA Jermaine Cook to lend competition to the other undrafted FA Maysonette. Leaving our FB position firmly in the grasp of Ogbanaya with backup depth supplied by Marecic whose ability to actually grasp any football thrown to him, unless he had a major upwards earning curve from last year, less than optimal.

      We are watching most closely and with great interest to see how effective the Personnel Department is on locating talent to replace the players who inevitably will be going down with injuries.

      Which also tells me that if sabermetrics was truly the primary deciding factor with the Browns, we would probably have neither Cook nor Maysonette.

  2. MJM

    August 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Bob, no one on BSS has been able to answer why the Browns passed on Vonta Leach. Less than stellar move, imo on the part of the FO? Right?

    With Leach on board (yes, I know he is older than 22), Cris O could move back to the RB slot, a position that even a dumb non-sabemetric Browns fan of 40+ years can easily see.

    What are us idiot fans failing to see that the FO does, in this instance?

    Is having a pro bowl FB on the roster who could free up Ogbanaya to return to RB truly damage beyond all repair the Browns chance at success?

    What is up on this?

    MJM

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