Running Back-Needy Browns Should Consider Greg Little in the Backfield

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2013

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Greg Little #18 of the Cleveland Browns runs by defenders Orson Charles #80 and Ryan Whalen #88 of the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 29, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns were all but written off after the shocking trade that sent star running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts following an 0-2 start to the season.

However, the Browns have found a way to pull even at 2-2 since the trade, thanks in large part to the emergence of quarterback Brian Hoyer and the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from his two-game suspension.

If Cleveland can find a way to continue its momentum, it could be a legitimate contender in the suddenly shaky AFC North.

However, moving Richardson has left a hole in the Browns backfield.

It's not that Cleveland has been worse running the ball without Richardson. The team averaged 56 net rushing yards per game in the two games with the former first-round pick and 96 net rushing yards in the two games since the trade.

However, the trade has left the Browns without a young, explosive talent who can command the attention of defenses and consistently move the chains on the ground.

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Ten-year veteran Willis McGahee, who was brought in to fill the void left by Richardson, has averaged just 2.4 yards per carry with the Browns.

He did look better in last week's win over the Cincinnati Bengals and may eventually regain some of his Pro Bowl form as the season wears on. However, that doesn't mean Cleveland should ignore an opportunity to add to the position.

This is where wide receiver Greg Little comes in.

Little, a second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011, has had an up-and-down career with the Browns. 

He appeared to be a future star after amassing 1,353 yards on 114 receptions in his first two seasons, but he has also plagued the Browns with a penchant for dropping passes.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Little was credited with seven drops in 2012 on just 85 target passes (8.2 percent).

Along with the return of Gordon, the recurring drop issue was also a factor in head coach Rob Chudzinski's decision to demote Little a couple of weeks ago.

Still, Little possesses immense physical talent, and Chudzinski has tried to keep him in the team's game plan.

Little has seen some opportunities as a kick returner, where he has averaged a respectable 28.7 yards per return.

However, his time as a return man may have ended earlier this week, when the Browns claimed running back Fozzy Whittaker off waivers from the San Diego Chargers.

Whittaker made some noise as a returner earlier this season after gaining more than 20 yards on five of his six returned kicks.

The natural assumption here is that Little may be in store for an even more reduced role, thanks to the arrival of Whittaker, but this does not need to be the case—especially if the Browns still value his ability to make plays with the football in his hands.

Little, if you were not aware, actually began his collegiate career as a running back.

In his first two seasons at North Carolina, he carried the ball 137 times for 639 yards and five touchdowns with a very respectable 4.6 yards per carry average.

Therefore, the backfield would not exactly be foreign territory for the 6'2", 220-pound converted wideout.

Little might not have the speed of a true breakaway threat, but he is a tough and physical runner who could at least give the Browns a punishing running presence.

Consider that Little is roughly the same size and build as Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson (6'1", 217 lbs). This is not to suggest that Little can be the same type of ball-carrying talent, but Peterson is a big and physical player that defenders simply don't want to tackle. Little can likely be the same.

Moving Little to the backfield, at least in certain situations, would allow the Browns to utilize his talent as a ball-carrier while minimizing the potential for dropped passes.

It would also allow Cleveland to add to the running back position with talent already on the roster.

There are probably plans to eventually utilize the newly acquired Whittaker as a ball-carrier, but he is still a fresh player who must learn the offense before he can be truly effective.

Any free agents brought in would be in a similar position.

Little, on the other hand, has been working in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system since early in the offseason and should already know the running back's responsibilities on the vast majority of plays.

It doesn't exactly make sense to convert Little to an every-down running back, especially considering the Browns now have just four wideouts listed on the roster.

However, it makes a lot of sense to give him a handful of carries each game to see if he can provide a spark to a rushing attack that currently ranks just 27th in the league (76 yards per game).

After all, we have already seen Chudzinski and Turner use creative methods to try to generate rushing yards (they even broke out the Wildcat formation against the Bengals). 

Giving Little some reps in the backfield seems like a creative, yet perfectly reasonable way to continue the trend.