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2020 Cleveland Browns Positional Breakdown: Running Backs, and Fullbacks

The third installment of the 2020 Cleveland Browns positional breakdown will focus on the running back room. The Browns did not make any changes to the depth chart going into the 2020 season. The Browns look to stick to the game plan of using veterans Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt to carry the bulk of the loads this season. Furthermore, will the Browns be using Andy Janovich as more of a blocker, or give him chances to run as well? Although, will the Browns give a chance to Dontrell Hilliard, and D’Ernest Johnson to gain experience this season? Let’s begin.

Nick Chubb (signed until 2021, Free Agent in 2022)

2020 Contract: $2.013 million

What is there to say about Nick Chubb? Going into his third season with the Browns, the 2018 second rounder looks to pick up where he left off in 2019. Last season, Chubb ran for 1,494 yards, which according to Pro Football Focus was ranked 2nd in the league. Chubb accumulated 298 carries (3rd in the league) along with eight rushing touchdowns, tied for eighth in the league. What stood out most about Chubb was his five yards per carry average, which is excellent in a league where it is so pass heavy. Pro Football Focus gave Nick Chubb’s 2019 season a grade of 88.7 which is phenomenal considering the fact that the offense struggled for most of the season.

The Browns have Chubb locked up until the 2021 season before he becomes a unrestricted free agent in 2022. The biggest thing for the Browns is to see if they can sign Chubb to an extension that won’t strap the franchise financially. That is a situation the Browns would need to avoid unlike the situation between Todd Gurley and the LA Rams. Hopefully before 2022 the Browns will know what to do in that aspect of trying to keep Nick Chubb in Cleveland.

2020 Expectations for Chubb

But in terms of the 2020 season; Browns fans can expect Nick Chubb’s production numbers, under Kevin Stefanki‘s wide outside zone scheme, increase due to two tight end sets being used more often. This, along with the use of fullback Andy Janovich, can give Chubb, and even Kareem Hunt more help on getting the ball more up the field in this scheme.

 

Kareem Hunt (signed through 2020, Free Agent in 2021)

2020 Contract: $3.259 million

Despite only paying in eight games last season, the Browns got a boost in the running back room when Kareem Hunt returned from his nine game suspension. Hunt rushed for 171 yards on 44 carries (3.9 ypc) along two rushing touchdowns in those eight games. Pro Football Focus gave Hunt a 2019 grade of 76.7, which is still impressive after missing half the season.

Given now that Hunt will have a full season with the Browns in 2020, the team is looking to have the Kareem hunt that ran for 2,151 yards for two seasons that he was in Kansas City. Although, that was when he was the main running back in Kansas City but expect Hunt to show that he still capable to be the main guy to give the ball too in the backfield. The Browns gave Hunt a one year, $3.259 million deal in the off-season that many call a “show me” year for Hunt to see what team(s) would want to pick him up for the 2021 season.

2020 Expectations for Hunt

In terms of the 2020 season, expect Hunt receive a good amount of carries with a full schedule in front of him. Furthermore, with the wide outside zone scheme that head coach Kevin Stefanski uses for his offense, this could provide holes that Hunt could use to get hit the second level of the defense more often. In the past, Hunt’s speed put defenses at a disadvantage. If Hunt gets room in the second level of the defense, his yards per carry will increase and will run for more yards than the 171. Even though he will mainly backup Nick Chubb, Hunt looks poised to have a bounce back, “remember me”, 2020 season for the Browns.

 

Dontrell Hilliard (signed through 2020, UFA 2021)

2020 Contract: $750K

Dontrell Hilliard is entering into the last year of his entry level contract with the Browns, after being drafted by the team in 2018. He will be an Unrestricted Free Agent after this season, so it will be interesting to see what the team does with Hilliard after this upcoming season. Last season, Hilliard didn’t see much playing time as a running back, only amassing 49 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.

The majority of Hilliard’s playing time came as a kick and punt returner for the Browns on special teams. He managed 107 yards on 15 punt returns along with 421 yards on 17 kick returns, none returned for a touchdown. It is unknown if Hilliard will be used much on special teams with the additions of return specialist JoJo Natson from the LA Rams along with draftee Donovan Peoples-Jones. Hilliard will most likely be running back three behind Hunt and Chubb. Hilliard may get more carries to see if they will move him up on the depth chart next season if Hunt moves on in 2021. It will be a pivotal year for Hilliard to see if he will be in Cleveland following the 2020 season.

D’Ernest Johnson (signed through 2021, UFA 2022)

2020 Contract: $670K

D’Ernest Johnson is entering his second season with the Browns after signing as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 draft. In terms of numbers, there is not a whole lot to talk about for Johnson. Last season, he only managed 21 yards on four carries along with 71 yards receiving on six receptions. Johnson is signed through the 2021 season, until he becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent before the 2022 season.

There is a good chance Johnson will mainly be used on special teams and could be used in game to give the guys ahead of him a rest or in case of injury. Being the fourth running back on the depth chart means Johnson can’t do a whole lot playing wise unless he starts to impress the coaches to get more chances in other packages or on the special teams more. Johnson will look to make 2020 season another year to get acclimated to the NFL and learn from the veterans in the running back room.

 

Andy Janovich (signed until 2022, Opt Out 2021, Free Agent 2023)

2020 Contract: $1.243 million

Some would say that Andy Janovich is glad the 2019 season is over after missing a last few weeks with an elbow injury. He suffered the injury back on November 17th against the Minnesota Vikings. Janovich was acquired by the Browns after a trade with the Denver Broncos to bring the 26-year old veteran to Cleveland. After the 2020 season Janovich signed an extension with the Broncos that will last until after the 2022 season before becoming a free agent in 2023. There is an opt out for the Browns in 2021 before Janovich gets paid $1.45 million in 2021, and $1.6 million in 2022.

What makes Janovich valuable for the Browns is during the wide outside zone scheme. Janovich will be used for both his blocking and his receiving, a role Denver used him in before his injury. In the 2018 season, he amassed 112 yards receiving on eight receptions with a touchdown along with five yards on two rushes. Prior to his injury, he had 42 yards receiving on five receptions along with one rush for one yard and a touchdown.

2020 Expectations for Janovich

The Browns will mainly use Janovich as a blocker for Chubb, and Hunt in most sets on the offense with the occasional use as a receiver coming out of the backfield on short gain situations. There could be a chance of a close goal line or a third and inches chance to use his build to punch the ball in for a touchdown or a first down. Janovich gives a wide variety of options for the Browns to use him in the offense to be sure to keep an eye on him throughout the 2020 season and even beyond as a Brown.

Summary

When it comes to the running back/fullback room for the 2020 Cleveland Browns, you couldn’t have scripted a better room to have. Bringing back Hunt for a full season to help Chubb only helps the Browns moving forward. Plus, having a head coach who knows how to run an offense, expect Chubb to have a massive year considering he finished second in the NFL last season in rushing yards. Chubb has a good chance to rush for more than 1500 yards and get double-digit touchdowns as well.

Furthermore, the addition of Janovich will help provide running room for both Chubb, and Hunt. It also gives quarterback Baker Mayfield a throwing option out of the backfield. Expect a massive 2020 season for the Cleveland Browns backfield. It’s going to be electric.

*(Note: If you haven’t checked out the previous positional breakdown articles on the quarterbacks, and wide receivers, make sure to go give that a read.)*

Zach Martin
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