5 Running Backs the Cleveland Browns Should Target in the 2014 NFL Draft

Andy McNamara@@AndyMc81Correspondent IINovember 14, 2013

5 Running Backs the Cleveland Browns Should Target in the 2014 NFL Draft

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    There are five running backs that the Cleveland Browns should target heading into the 2014 NFL entry draft.

    Former third overall pick Trent Richardson was traded to Indianapolis after Week 2 of the season, and that left head coach Rob Chudzinski with the ongoing chore of cobbling together some sort of ground attack.

    As it currently stands, the Browns primarily hand off to 32-year-old Willis McGahee while sprinkling in touches for Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker. Cleveland ranks 28th on average carries per game (22.2) and 26th in rushing yards at an 81.6 average per matchup.

    It's a chicken or the egg scenario for this 2013 team. Is the backfield ineffectiveness because the players don't get the football enough, or is it due to lack of talent by the carriers?

    One thing that Browns fans must remember is that Dion Lewis will be a part of the club's plans next season, assuming he fully recovers from a fractured fibula.

    Lewis was set to be featured as a dual-threat change-of-pace back to Richardson's bulldozer style. It looked to be setting up similar to how offensive coordinator Norv Turner used Darren Sproles in San Diego as a dangerous pass-catching and running weapon.

    For the purpose of this article, let's say that Lewis' quick-slashing abilities do return in 2014. This leaves the void of a power rusher that can wear down defenses, grind out important fourth-quarter yardage and also catch the ball.

    Here are the five best NCAA prospects that fit this mold.

5. Ben Malena

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    All projected draft round selections are courtesy of CBSSports.com, and all player statistics are via ESPN.com.

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 7-FA

    Current season's statistics as of November 14

    Rushing: 476 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, nine touchdowns

    Receiving: 179 yards, 19 receptions, one touchdown

    In the shadow of Texas A&M superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 5'9" Ben Malena has developed into a reliable catching and rushing all-purpose back.

    He is solid in pass protection, and while not explosive, is able to consistently pound the rock. The exact type of RB that Cleveland currently is in dire need of.

    Malena is a fan favorite for the Aggies as he wears a variety of headbands during games and isn't afraid to make a flashy entrance out of the tunnel. More importantly, the senior is a team captain, a recognized locker room leader and is a staple on special teams.

    This Cedar Hill, Texas, native could be a late-round hidden gem that would help balance the Browns backfield.



4. James Wilder Jr.

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    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 3

    Current season's statistics as of November 14

    Rushing: 317 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, five touchdowns

    Receiving: 27 yards, three receptions, zero touchdowns

    Only in his junior year, James Wilder Jr. could decide not to declare and develop for another season at Florida State. 

    The Seminole has been slowed this season by a nagging shoulder injury and was forced to miss the Oct. 26 game against North Carolina State because of a concussion suffered the week before.

    His numbers are also lower than expected because he's been sharing carries with fellow junior running back Devonta Freeman.

    Despite all of that, Wilder is a physical rusher who isn't afraid to use his large 6'1", 229-pound body to fight for extra yards. The Florida resident demonstrates excellent balance, has a quick first step and can aggressively explode past (or through) would-be tacklers.

    Wilder is more of a raw talent that offensive coordinator Norv Turner would need to mold, but his talent ceiling is among the highest in this draft.

3. LaDarius Perkins

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    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 4-5

    Current season's statistics as of November 14

    Rushing: 433 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, two touchdowns

    Receiving: 178 yards, 19 receptions, one touchdown

    LaDarius Perkins' production has regressed as a senior from his 1,016 rushing yards for eight scores in 2012.

    In fairness, the Mississippi State Bulldog does have 57 fewer carries through nine games this season and missed a contest, compared to the same stretch from a year ago.

    While his draft stock may slip, there is still plenty of upside to No. 27.

    Perkins is a thick, tackle-shedding runner that doesn't shy away from interior rushes and is also quick enough to inflict damage by slipping to the outside. His acceleration is impressive as is the ability to change speed and cut sharply in any direction.

    The 5'10" running back is not utilized regularly in the passing attack but when called upon has displayed good hands on short throws and the ability to rattle off big gains in space.

    In pass protection Perkins gives a full effort. However, he needs to increase his current 195-pound frame to avoid getting bowled over at the NFL level.

    The pride of Greenville, Miss., possesses the tools and heart that the Browns covet in their players. Although an inconsistent producer, his flashes of brilliance might be worth gambling a mid-round pick on.

2. Marion Grice

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    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 3

    Current season's statistics as of November 14

    Rushing: 783 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns

    Receiving: 353 yards, 39 receptions, six touchdowns

    At 6'0" and 204 pounds, Marion Grice needs to bulk up some and not be such an upright runner.

    However, the Arizona State senior is a proven contributor with six multi-touchdown games in 2013 and is tied for second in scoring for all NCAA Division I-A football players.

    The Sun Devil can cut on a dime with instant acceleration, and his patience often takes over-aggressive defenders out of position. Grice is also a dependable receiver and can hold his own when blocking.

    One other trait that the Browns may find appealing is that Grice has experience as a kick returner. Through nine games this year he's ran back 16 kicks for a total of 381 yards and a long of 44. 

1. Ka'Deem Carey

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    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 2

    Current season's statistics as of November 14

    Rushing: 1,221 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns

    Receiving: 133 yards, 19 receptions, zero touchdowns

    There is high risk, high reward out of selecting Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey. 

    The risk involves his maturity issues off the field, a story all too familiar to Browns fans this season with wide receiver Josh Gordon.

    However, the reward opportunities seem great. Shattering the 1,000-yard plateau for the second consecutive year, this playmaker has rumbled for over 100 yards in 11 straight regular-season games games and averages 27 carries a week.

    Carey added bulk over the offseason and is now 196 pounds, and it has helped with his power running up the middle. At 5'10", the Arizona running back's superb vision and fast decision making emphasizes his ankle-breaking cuts and first-step quickness.

    The Wildcat can also punish defenses in the short passing game and has developed into an effective blitz blocker in the backfield.


    Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

    Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81