Whether the Browns pick a running back in the April 25-27 NFL Draft will hinge on what General Manager John Dorsey decides to do with Duke Johnson.
On Feb. 11, Dorsey signed controversial running back Kareem Hunt despite already having Johnson and 2018 second-round selection Nick Chubb on the roster. Dorsey and his crew covet Chubb after picking him 35th overall and watching him lead the Browns last season with 996 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
So the GM was asked if signing Hunt made Johnson expendable.
"I don't think it makes him expendable yet," Dorsey replied.
The comment caught the attention of Johnson, his camp and other teams that think highly of him.
On March 15, the NFL suspended Hunt for the first eight regular-season games of 2019 because of his physical altercations with a woman in February 2018 in downtown Cleveland and with a man in June in Put-in-Bay.
Johnson declined to report to Browns headquarters on April 1 for the start of their voluntary offseason workout program and news broke that his agent had asked the organization to trade him.
If Johnson is moved before or during the draft, the Browns would enter the running back market. They have Dontrell Hilliard and Devante Mays, but Dorsey would likely want to add to the stable with Hunt's availability far from guaranteed. Hilliard appeared in 11 games last season as an undrafted rookie and caught nine passes for 105 yards. Mays was on the practice squad.
Pattern of patience
Dorsey has a history of waiting for running backs in the draft. He has never picked one earlier than Chubb. In Dorsey's 28 years working in NFL player personnel departments, the only other time he was with a team that picked a running back in the second round was in 2007, when the Green Bay Packers chose Brandon Jackson 63rd overall. With the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, Dorsey selected Hunt in the third round (86th).
After trading their first-round pick as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. deal, the Browns' first two selections are in the second (No. 49 overall) and third (No. 80) rounds. But conversations about them drafting a running back probably shouldn't start until the third and final day of the draft, when they're scheduled to have six of their eight choices — fourth round (No. 119), fifth (Nos. 144, 155 and 170), sixth (No. 189) and seventh (No. 221).
By the end of the third round, most draft analysts agree Alabama's Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, Memphis' Darrell Henderson, Penn State's Miles Sanders, Iowa State's David Montgomery, Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams and Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary will likely be gone. Oklahoma State's Justice Hill and Stanford's Bryce Love might be off the board, too.
Of the running backs who could be left on day three, Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo is one to watch. He had a pre-draft visit to Browns headquarters, a league source confirmed.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein projects Ozigbo as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Ozigbo didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season, when he rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns on 155 carries (7.0 average) and caught 23 passes for 203 yards.
"Ozigbo is an explosive, downhill runner with adequate vision and above-average power, but he's a one-speed runner who might need a more nuanced approach on the next level," Zierlein wrote for NFL.com. "Ozigbo's senior tape and impressive traits could be enough to land a role as an NFL backup."
Zierlein projects Ohio State's Mike Weber as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
"He can make the initial tackler miss but doesn't string moves together effectively," Zierlein wrote. "He could have a career cap as a RB3."
Among the other running backs projected by analysts to become day three picks are Kentucky's Benny Snell, Temple's Ryquell Armstead, Notre Dame's Dexter Williams, Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson, Appalachian State's Jalin Moore, Washington's Myles Gaskin, Utah State's Darwin Thompson, Boise State's Alexander Mattison, Kansas State's Alex Barnes and Pittsburgh's Qadree Ollison.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.