The Cleveland Browns needed to replace Isaiah Crowell in the draft or free agency, and veteran Carlos Hyde became available when San Francisco didn’t as much lift a finger in effort to retain his services.
This move is particularly interesting due to its ramifications on the Browns’ first-round draft plans and the correlative fantasy football impact. Adding Hyde to a three-year deal averaging more than $5 million a season all but ends the speculation of taking Saquon Barkley No. 1 overall — and possibly even with the fourth pick.
For the record, Hyde welcomed the idea of Barkley joining the backfield. Financially, it doesn’t make much sense at this point. It also illogical from a personnel perspective. The Browns know Tyrod Taylor isn’t the future at quarterback, and the offensive line will require attention since left tackle Joe Thomas retired.
The hiring of Todd Haley as offensive coordinator creates a world of potential for the backfield. Hyde is a pretty darn good receiver in his own right, but he’s not on the same plane as Duke Johnson in this department.
Haley’s system utilizes running backs as multi-faceted weapons, as witnessed by the dual-threat ways of Le’Veon Bell. No one is going to mistake Hyde for Bell, but he could be a “Bell lite” option for the creative play-caller. The most important fantasy aspect will be how heavily Johnson is used in the passing game at Hyde’s expense. Last year, Cleveland toyed with the idea of moving Johnson into the slot. While it seems unlikely given the depth in this year’s receiving corps, maybe he becomes more of a gadget player and less of a pure third-down back.
On the surface, it seems like Hyde has demonstrated a nose for the end zone over the past two seasons. He scored 14 times on the ground and three times via aerial work in the last 29 games. This breaks down to once every 31.9 touches. In 2016, Hyde ranked as the 24th most efficient RB in this area (100 minimum touches), which dipped to 26th in ’17. Those numbers are adequate for an RB2 but uninspiring.
Haley’s offenses have run the ball no more than 42.6 percent of the time in each of the past three years. Playing better defense in Cleveland and sustaining drives by way of improved quarterbacking will allow the offense to rely more on the run, or at least become balanced. The Browns hovered around the high 30s for run-pass ratio in that same window, although not by design.
Expecting more than 250 carries and 285 touches from Hyde would be optimistic. The backfield chores will be shared, which is commonplace in today’s NFL. Hyde profiles as the between-the-20s guy and Cleveland’s preferred option in the red zone. Injuries are always a concern, and the offensive line must improve for his stock to rise above being a high-end RB3 or low-end No. 2 in fantasy drafts.