CLEVELAND — On paper, the Cleveland Browns have no shortage of talent at the skill positions on offense heading into the 2019 season, and that includes running back, where Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr. anchored the team’s backfield attack for much of the 2018 season.
But the talk about the Browns throughout the offseason has focused on quarterback Baker Mayfield and those tasked with catching his passes, namely newly-acquired wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Although Mayfield believes his teammates are being overlooked, he finds that to be an advantage.
“We have people talking about our receivers and tight ends, but we have to be able to run the ball in short yardage and in cold weather,” Mayfield said after a recent OTA practice at team headquarters in Berea. “It is pretty important, and I’m hoping everybody kind of overshadowing and not talking about the running backs kind of pisses them off.”
Of all rookie running backs who have played for the Browns since their founding in 1946, no one rushed for more yards than Chubb, as he set the franchise single-season record in a 26-18 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23.
Chubb rushed for a game-high 112 yards on 19 carries, which gave him 972 yards on the season.
Chubb broke the old mark for rushing yards by a rookie that was set by Trent Richardson during the 2012 season. Richardson rushed for those 950 yards on 267 carries, while Chubb eclipsed his yardage total on 84 less attempts.
Chubb finished the 2018 season, one in which he was seldom used in the first seven games, with 996 yards and eight touchdowns on 192 carries. Chubb had 11 20-yard runs, four 40-yard bursts and 47 first-down conversions.
“Phenomenally talented,” Mayfield said.
“Very quiet. Just works really hard. Cares about winning more than anything. He had 1,000 yards and lost it. He didn’t care about that. He cared about the fact that we lost the last game of the year. I think that speaks volumes of who he is as a teammate and great to have people like that.”
Then, there is Kareem Hunt, a one-time Pro Bowl player for the Kansas City Chiefs who is looking to reboot his NFL career after being released and subsequently suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season because of his assault of a woman at a Cleveland hotel/apartment complex in February of 2018.
Prior to his release, Hunt rushed for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns with 106 first downs, 19 plays going for at least 20 yards and four 40-yard gains. Additionally, Hunt caught 79 passes out of the backfield for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a single-season career high of seven in 2018.
As a rookie in 2017, Hunt rushed for an NFL-best 1,327 yards on 272 carries, an average of 4.9 yards per attempt, which earned him a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.
After the Browns signed Hunt in February, Mayfield spoke with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce about their former teammate, and the second-year signal-caller was impressed by what he heard.
“Even though he can’t play the first eight games, he is going to be a vital part of our team,” Mayfield said. “Just being around him, I think he is a great kid.
“Mistakes happen. I can speak from personal experience. Just talking to the guys that have been with him, they speak very highly of him. I think that is really important, and it has been pretty important for him to be here, too.”