The Cleveland Browns had one of the messiest running back situations in the league last year with Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell all vying to be the top dog at this time a year ago. Much has changed in the past year and now Crowell is the last man standing after the Browns traded West to the Tennessee Titans for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2016. The Browns are admitting they swung and missed with West after taking him with #94 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft. This move creates some clarity in the Cleveland backfield for this upcoming season and further clouds things in Tennessee, who may just have the ugliest running back committee we’ve seen in a while.
Let’s break down the aftermath of the trade and evaluate the value changes for some key players involved.
Terrance West, RB TEN
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West had a decent rookie season in Cleveland by gaining 673 yards on 171 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and scoring four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he didn’t endear himself to the coaching staff by exhibiting some bad practice habits and reportedly having some maturity issues. In the end, the Browns just couldn’t invest in a player who was notorious for highs and lows and never really seemed to find any element of consistency both on and off the field.
In Tennessee, West joins a very crowded backfield that included Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, Dexter McCluster and David Cobb. Sankey will certainly be the starter, but West could put some heat on him if he starts to falter. In the end, West’s value stays about the same – he’s a young running back with some definite talent, but also one who needs to act like a professional and have some things fall his way to have any real fantasy value.
Bishop Sankey, RB TEN
Speaking of disappointing players, this leads us straight to Sankey. I really liked him at this time last year, but I may have been very wrong about his prospects. Sankey gained 569 yards during his rookie season on just 3.7 yards per carry. He also caught 18 passes for 133 yards and scored a total of two touchdowns. To make matters worse, the coaches lost confidence in his ability and only gave him 30 total carries in the last four games of the season combined – not exactly what the Titans were hoping for after taking him as the top running back off the board last year. In short, Sankey was a hesitant runner last year, didn’t pass protect well and showed very little elusiveness. In fact, you could have used the dreaded “just a guy” description when evaluating his performance.
With West in the fold and the Titans reportedly working out Jonas Gray tomorrow, it’s obvious the Titans are shortening the leash on Sankey. He wasn’t overly impressive this preseason, but should start the season as the primary back. If you still believe in him, now would be the time to pounce. His price is undoubtedly as low as it’s been since he entered the league.
Antonio Andrews, RB TEN
Andrews is a big back who seems to produce when given his opportunities. The addition of West clouds his future a bit, but I wouldn’t give up on Andrews. If anything, he’s going to make for a good short yardage and goal line option for Tennessee.
Dexter McCluster, RB TEN
The addition of West really doesn’t change McCluster’s role. He’ll continue to be a “swiss army knife” for the Titans and serve as a third down and receiving back.
David Cobb, RB TEN
From bell cow to bad calf, it’s been quite the roller coaster for Cobb this off-season. A few weeks ago, he was seemingly competing to unseat Sankey as the RB1 for the Titans, but now a severe calf injury has landed him on the IR/DFR list. If Gray is signed, it’s going to further muddy the waters in the backfield and make it pretty unlikely Cobb makes any type of an impact as a rookie. Cobb is a mildly disappointing hold at the moment, especially after showing real flashes early on this Summer.
Isaiah Crowell, RB CLE
The trade of West makes Crowell the clear winner in terms of fantasy purposes. With only Duke Johnson nipping at his heels, Crowell will open the year as the unquestioned featured runner for the Browns. I’ve long been a non-believer in Crowell due to his off-the-field issues, but this is the move he needed to really have a chance to make his mark in the league. This could be a “sell high” moment or he could be on the cusp of being a fantasy difference maker. After chasing the RB1 for Cleveland for the past ten years, color me skeptical. I just don’t have a lot of faith in this franchise in fantasy or reality. Still, Crowell will get his chance.
Duke Johnson, RB CLE
Johnson gets a nice boost in short-term value with the trade of West. He’s currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol, but it looks like he could be ready as soon as week one. I won’t be surprised to see the Browns add a veteran running back (Montee Ball, perhaps) to round out their corps, but Johnson should find playing time early and often this season.