To all those who thought the Cleveland Browns would select Saquon Barkley with one of their top-four picks in the draft, it’s not looking very likely. They have agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $15 million with former-49ers running back Carlos Hyde.
It’s a great move by the Browns, as drafting Barkley never made too much sense with Duke Johnson still on the roster. Instead, they’re going with the one-two punch of Hyde and Johnson. Hyde is one of the best tackle-breaking running backs in the league when carrying the ball and has just 655 career carries on his frame. In case you’re wondering, yes, he’s quite better than Isaiah Crowell.
Some have sat back and watched Hyde accumulate 86 receptions over the last two years and assume that he’s a good pass-catcher. While he proved to be competent in that area, he’s far from good. He’s not going to be a threat to Johnson’s receptions, which hit a career-high (74) in 2017. This is definitely a knock to Hyde’s upside, as most RB1’s in fantasy are contributing heavily in the passing game. Even in a standard format, 13 of the top 15 running backs totaled at least 269 yards through the air. Hyde’s projected fantasy finish takes a hit in this area.
One area Hyde will get a boost is offensive line play, as he goes from what was maybe a bottom-five offensive line with the 49ers, to a potential top-five offensive line with the Browns. I say potential because we don’t know if Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is coming back in 2018, though a decision is expected to be made any day. The Browns did, however, go out in free agency and sign offensive tackle Chris Hubbard, formerly of the Steelers to play right tackle. With two of the best guards in football (Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio) leading the charge up front, and potentially Thomas and Hubbard on the edges, Hyde should have plenty of room to operate.
Another underrated portion of this move is Hyde going to play alongside Tyrod Taylor, who offers the mobility that teams fear. When most running backs play alongside a quarterback as athletic as Taylor, they tend to have more holes open, simply because they are forced to keep eyes (and sometimes a spy) on the quarterback, especially on RPO’s (run-pass-options). It’s why you saw Alfred Morris have the best years of his career with Robert Griffin III and even looking at LeSean McCoy the last few years alongside Taylor. Granted, the Browns are likely to draft a quarterback who will take over for Taylor in 2019, but it could be Baker Mayfield, who offers similar traits (though not on Taylor’s level).
There are tons of moving parts on the Browns offense, but if one thing is certain, they want to run the ball. Taylor has never thrown the ball more than 437 times in a year and for good reason – he’s not that type of quarterback. Sure, the Browns have a bevy of options available in the passing game (Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, David Njoku), but that’ll just empty the middle of the field for Hyde to operate. This is not going to look like the same team you watched in 2016 and 2017, though Hue Jackson still commanding the team is the biggest concern.
When projecting what Hyde will do in 2018, it’s obvious to say he needs to stay healthy first-and-foremost. When teams fail to throw the ball 500 times, it means you’re looking at 350-plus and sometimes 400-plus rushing attempts. Knowing that Hue Jackson doesn’t appear to love Duke Johnson, as evidenced by his 73 carries in 2016 and 82 carries in 2017, we should be able to project Hyde for a minimum of 225 carries. As pointed out in my 82 Interesting Facts from 2017 article (read it here), there have been 69 running backs who have totaled at least 200 carries in a season since 2014. Of those 69 running backs, just three of them failed to finish inside the top-24 fantasy running backs. As things stand right now, I’d be very comfortable if Hyde was my RB2, though I wouldn’t want to rely on him for RB1 production because of his lack of involvement in the passing game with Johnson there.
Miss any of the other big-name free agent signings? We’ve got you covered with the links below.
Allen Robinson to the Bears
Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs
Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
Case Keenum to the Broncos
Trey Burton to the Bears
Jimmy Graham to the Packers
Dion Lewis to the Titans