With Browns signing Kareem Hunt, how do AFC North running back groups fare?
By signing controversial running back Kareem Hunt on Monday, the Cleveland Browns reinforced what already was a formidable position group heading into free agency and the NFL Draft.
When Hunt is activated from the commissioner’s exempt list after the NFL completes its investigation into his alleged assault incident – a video showed him shoving and kicking a woman – the Browns will have the top running back group in the AFC North.
Hunt joins a backfield that includes Nick Chubb, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie season, and dependable change-of-pace back Duke Johnson Jr.
Once cleared to play after he likely serves a multi-game suspension, Hunt could be a good fit for the Browns given that he grew up in the Cleveland suburbs and attended Toledo before the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2017. Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, but the Chiefs cut him loose in December after the video surfaced.
Before being released, Hunt had 14 touchdowns – seven rushing, seven receiving. He rushed for 824 yards (a 4.6 average) and caught 26 passes for 378 yards. He totaled 1,202 yards from scrimmage.
The Browns also have Chubb, who started nine games as a rookie and totaled 996 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground when he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Johnson chipped in 201 yards rushing and had 47 catches for 429 yards and three scores.
That group has the Browns squarely ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens as the new league season opens March 13.
The Steelers return third-year back James Conner and second-year player Jaylen Samuels. Conner missed three games due to injury, yet he finished with 973 yards rushing (a 4.5 average) and 12 touchdowns. He totaled 1,470 scrimmage yards, which ranked No. 10 in the NFL, as a result of his 55 catches for 497 yards and a touchdown. Samuels contributed 256 rushing yards (4.6 average) and caught 26 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, mostly while filling in for Conner.
The Bengals will return third-year runner Joe Mixon, who totaled 1,168 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Mixon had 1,464 scrimmage yards. The Bengals also return Giovani Bernard, who had 211 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while catching 35 passes for 218 yards.
The division-winning Ravens are in flux at the position aside from Gus Edwards, who emerged in the second half of last season when he started six games and rushed for 718 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt. Short-yardage back Javorius “Buck” Allen is an unrestricted free agent as is Ty Montgomery. Alex Collins is a restricted free agent, but could be brought back to pair with Edwards. Collins rushed for 411 yards and scored seven touchdowns but averaged just 3.6 yards before losing his job to Edwards.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.