Cleveland Browns' Running Game Key to Success in 2009

Doug TarnovichContributor IApril 24, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 28:  Jamal Lewis #31 of the Cleveland Browns tries to get around the tackle of Orpheus Roye #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a fourth quarter run at Heinz Field December 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 31-0. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

24 hours until the 2009 NFL Draft finally begins and I can't help but fall into the temptation of adding yet another article on the topic. Certainly, there has been no shortage of speculation regarding controversies and rumors this off season and for good reasons:

  1. Anderson? Quinn? Sanchez? Bugs Bunny? Who is the starting quarterback going to be?
  2. Regardless of who will be under center, to whom will he throw? As of now, Cleveland lacks a reliable wide receiver even if Braylon Edwards stays put.
  3. Everybody is still looking for the Browns to improve on the defensive side of the ball, despite finishing the 2008 season with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

Amidst these dilemmas however, a key component needs to be seriously addressed if this franchise is to climb out of the hole in which it now finds itself: the running game.

Jamal Lewis had a great year in 2007 but failed to produce in 2008 earning a mere four rushing touchdowns, averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and on several occasions, failed to convert on 3rd and short situations. As we all know, running backs reach their expiration date as they reach 30 years old and so far, Lewis appears to be no exception. 

Jerome Harrison was the only player on the Browns offense that truly excited me. While Lewis was stutter-stepping to find a hole, Harrison exploded from the backfield averaging 7.2 yards per carry with a season long of 72 yards, dwarfing Lewis' 29. Even though he deserves more touches, few are confident that Harrison is qualified to be a starter.

Some don't expect the Browns to do much in 2009.

I question if those folks have been watching the NFL the past two seasons. Saying that, I do not expect Cleveland to become a potent passing threat this season considering the quarterback and wide receiver issues.

What this team needs is a solid workhorse at running back, a big bruiser to eventually replace the aging Lewis. It will ease the burden on whoever the quarterback and wide receivers will be, when it is put on some shoulders that can carry the load, preferably a guy that can hack at and wear down the most brutal defenses in the league.

A stronger running game will not only improve the overall offense, but could also do wonders for a defense that spent way too much time on the field last season. The longer the offense is on the field, the less we'll have to see Shaun Rogers huffin' and puffin' through an oxygen mask on the sidelines.

Who should Cleveland draft, then? Here are the front running candidates:

  1. Chris "Beanie" Wells. Cleveland has the 5th overall pick and Wells has been in the discussion. Though I truly believe that he fits the mold of what the Browns need in a running back, he is the worst possible choice here. Talent alone won't cut it in the brutal AFC North. Durability is equally essential, which isn't exactly an area of strength for the former Buckeye. Pass.
  2. Donald Brown and LeSean McCoy. These two backs are projected to go either late in the first round or early in the second, right around where I think the Browns may be looking. Scouts seem to be big on these guys but they don't fit the power-back mold. Coming from one of the weakest conferences in NCAA football doesn't excite me either. Pass and Pass.
  3. Shonn Greene. This is one of the most underrated players in this draft. At 5' 11" 235 lbs., he gained 100 yards or more in every game Iowa played in 2008, including 117 against Aaron Maybin and Penn State, Wells only 55 yds. Say what you want about the Big Ten, but its tough and physical which is exactly what the Browns need in a running back. Bulls eye!

Greene could very well be on the board when the Browns are on the clock for the 36th overall pick, but will they use it to draft a running back? Will they draft a running back period?

Judging by this off season, it appears that Mangini and Kokinis feel secure with where they are in regards to this position. Lewis isn't going anywhere, nor is Harrison and the signing of Noah Herron leads me to logically conclude that the new regime is more interested in working with what they've got rather than adding a fourth running back. I certainly could be wrong and hope that I am. We'll all know by tomorrow evening.

If this once great franchise is to climb out of the hole in which they now find themselves, they desperately need to draft a running back tomorrow evening.