Lewis became the poster child for what happens to workhorse running backs who commit the crime of turning 30 in today’s NFL. Lewis had a great career, but all the pounding and all the mileage caught up with him last year.
Lewis’ speed practically vanished overnight as the Browns training camp opened last August. Lewis tried to downplay his inability to hit holes during preseason, passing it off as not going full-out in a preseason game.
That explanation felt weak, and his subsequent inability to make it through his own line, especially the left side, was a glaring weakness in an already suspect offense.
Lewis averaged 3.5 yards per carry in nine games, going for 500 yards and no touchdowns.
Tomlinson and Westbrook both are 30 and both have had great careers. Like Lewis, though, both were workhorses for their respective teams.
Tomlinson’s stats have steadily decreased over the past few years, and he wasn’t even able to gain 1,000 yards this past season for the first time in his career. He went from gaining 1,815 yards in 2006 to 730 in 2009.
That’s quite a dropoff.
Add in his average yards per carry dropping from 5.2 to 3.3, and you can see why the Chargers were hesitant to commit any more money to him.
Westbrook is in a similar situation of turning 30, but he also has the injury bug on his resume weighing him down, concussions specifically.
Tomlinson is the hardest one to pass up, though. The Browns had a chance to draft him, but former head coach Butch Davis famously passed up one of the greatest running backs in the history of the game for Gerard Warren.
Yes, that Gerard Warren. If you’re a Browns fan, I don’t need to say anything more. If you’re not a Browns fan, you’re better off not knowing.
History aside, the Browns have to look at Tomlinson and Westbrook no different than any other 30-year-old running back. Their past accomplishments don’t have much bearing on 2010.
The Browns are going to have to look at what they do have and proceed from there.
Jerome Harrison had a bit of breakout year in Cleveland in 2009, especially the last four games of the year after Lewis got shut down due to his concussions.
The knock on Harrison has been his size. At 5’9”, 205 lbs., he’s considered undersized for the NFL. While this could be debated, the fact is another few inches and about 20 lbs. would make all the difference in the world.
Harrison was joined on the field at the end by Chris Jennings, who looked like a solid backup in his nine games in 2009. Jennings gained 220 yards on 63 attempts, averaging out to 3.5 yards per carry.
The 3.5 yard per carry isn’t much more than what Tomlinson gained as a starter and is equal to Lewis. This is why Tomlinson was cut, and this is why the Browns shouldn’t even think of signing him. Hoping he’ll regain his breakaway speed of yesteryear is a false hope.
Going into the 2009 draft, the Browns need to look at almost every position. Even if the Browns decide to draft a running back, it most likely won’t be in the first two rounds. There are too many larger needs on the defense for the Browns to use any of their higher picks on one.
There’s also the mysterious case of James Davis, rookie phenom sidelined by a shoulder injury coming out of the gate last year.
Davis showed a lot of potential in his limited preseason action, but a shoulder injury in the first half of the first game, followed by a season-ending shoulder injury in practice a few weeks later, never let anyone see more than a few flashes of what might have been.
Davis was a sixth round pick, and could be considered a steal in some corners as he was projected to go much higher had he come out of college after his junior year. A bad senior year sent his draft stock plummeting.
With free agency looming, the draft approaching, and Team President Mike Holmgren still deciding what to do with the quarterbacks, adding another aging running back seems like the last thing this team would want to do.