In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start...
Cleveland Browns Need to Give Greg Little a Try at Running Back
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little came into the 2013 NFL season with the hope of building on his strong ending to the 2012 season. After meeting during the bye week with NBA great Alonzo Mourning, Little snagged two touchdowns and had 50 or more yards receiving in four of the team’s final seven games. More importantly, he stopped dropping every other ball that came his way.
Instead of picking up the 2013 season right where he left off, Little has been in the news recently for his run-ins on the streets with Cleveland police in his car, and the return of his case of the dropsies. His issues with holding onto the ball have gotten so bad that some in the Cleveland media have called for the team to cut the 6’2” and 220-pound receiver after hauling in just eight catches for 59 yards despite being targeted 22 times.
It is true Little has not been a model citizen when driving his car on the streets of Cleveland since he arrived here via the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. It is also true that Little has struggled—despite a lot of hard work and effort in practice and in the offseason—to become an improved pass catcher in his third year in the league. However, even with these things in mind, it is not time to give up on Little—in fact, it may be time to try something different.
Coming out of high school, Little was recruited by the University of North Carolina to play running back, in fact, it wasn’t until his junior season of 2009 (he was ruled ineligible for his senior season of 2010) that he was actually moved to the wide receiver position. During his three years, Little carried the ball 166 times for 805 yards and six touchdowns—an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Thanks to his size and bruising ability, Little was the type of runner that was very difficult to bring down on first contact.
Despite his size and strength, the Tar Heels were much deeper at running back than wide receiver and decided to move him. Little responded well, catching 62 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns his final season. For his career, he hauled in 86 passes for 969 yards and six touchdowns.
Little’s big junior year was part of the reason he caught the eye of the Cleveland Browns front office. His game film showed an uncanny ability to catch the ball in space and blow up the first defender to come in contact with him—the same way he was as a running back. When utilized in screens, quick passes and slants with an opportunity to get the ball in space, Little looked confident catching the ball and running. It was in his down-field, longer route situations that he struggled with his hand-eye coordination and dropping of passes.
When he was drafted by the Browns, the team knew they were going to have a work in progress. After all, Little was only a full-time receiver one year in college football before sitting out a full season. Now, in his third year in the league, many are getting ready to wave the white flag on the receiving project in realistically only the fourth year of his football life playing the position.
Allow me to suggest something else—why not give him a try at running back as well?
The Browns depth chart at running back currently stands at Trent Richardson, Chris Ogbonnaya (their starting fullback) and Bobby Rainey whom they claimed off waivers the week the season started. Nobody else besides Richardson has carried the ball, and he has done that just 31 times this season without finding the end zone.
This is not to suggest Little should replace Richardson by any means, instead, the Browns could utilize Little to give defenses different looks, and in a sense play him in one of those h-back roles you see Urban Meyer utilizing down in Columbus. Could you imagine having a player in the backfield that could serve a Percy Harvin-like purpose in Cleveland? Not saying he has Harvin’s speed, but if you go look at the tape of when Little caught quick screens in North Carolina, he was the toughest man on the field to bring down.
On top of adding a wrinkle to the offense, Little can actually run the ball too. You read his collegiate stats, but in his senior year of high school Little ran for 969 yards and eight touchdowns on just 140 attempts while catching 61 passes for 1,002 yards and 18 touchdowns on a wide variety of those short passes. It is pretty obvious the kid is a playmaker when put in the right situation.
Giving up on Little isn’t an option for this organization, but finding a way to use the talents he currently has is a must. With the return of Josh Gordon coming this week, Little will no longer be the primary option for a stagnant offense, he will fall into the third option behind Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.
Being the third option on this offense is something that should benefit Little greatly, and presents the perfect time for Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski to use him in a different way. Because with all due respect to Little, how much worse could he possibly be than the first two games of the 2013 NFL Season?
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