It’s not easy following a legend. Just ask any Chicago Bulls shooting guard who has played post-Michael Jordan basketball, or any basketball player post-Jordan. His Airness always draws comparisons. Players put in a sentence with Jordan are honored, but few can come close to a place in his spotlight.
The same is true for Cleveland Browns running backs. Essentially, the phrase ‘Cleveland Browns running back’ is synonymous with the great Jim Brown. His play, statistics, and accolades amassed over his nine years in the game (12,312 yds rushing, 126 TD’s, nine consecutive Pro-Bowl appearances, and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) are legendary. However, Brown is not the only excellent back who has ever donned orange and brown.
When you look over top position player lists, there are a few players who inevitably follow Brown on the running back list. Leroy Kelly and Marion Motley had marvelous careers and are rightfully enshrined with Jim Brown in Canton, Ohio. Another must-have name when listing Cleveland’s top backs is Mike Pruitt.
What about the rest of the men who carried the ball on the shore of Lake Erie? Here is a look at some Cleveland Browns Running Backs who do not get the credit they deserve for their contribution to the team.
The name may not be familiar to you, but that makes sense. Ernie Green played in the same backfield as Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown. So, one of his most substantial contributions to the team was as a fullback punching holes for Brown and Kelly.
Green was a difference-maker when he was carrying the ball, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He ran in for 15 touchdowns and gained 3,204 rushing yards in his seven-year career. Green made significant contributions to the team with his skills catching the ball as well. He earned 2,036 yards from 195 receptions scoring 20 touchdowns in the process.
Earnest Byner joined the Cleveland Browns after being drafted in the 10th round as the 280th pick of 1984 from East Carolina University. He spent his first five seasons in the NFL as a member of the Browns. (1984-1988) Byner also played five seasons with the Washington Redskins then returned to Cleveland in 1994 and stayed with the team until the move to Baltimore in 1996.
During his time in Cleveland Byner was a consistent presence in the backfield. Unfortunately, Byner is best remembered for a fateful play from the 1988 AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. With just over a minute to play in the game, Byner received a handoff from Brown’s quarterback, Bernie Kosar and looked as if he would rumble into the end zone. However, in what would become known as “the fumble” Byner coughed up the ball on the one-yard line where Denver recovered. The goal-line play may be what Byner is associated with while in Cleveland, however, he made some solid contributions to Cleveland. As a member of the Browns organization, Earnest Byner compiled 3,364 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.
In 1984, after his days of college football at Clemson were behind him, Kevin Mack opted to spend a year in the USFL. He joined the Cleveland Browns in 1985 and quickly made his presence known. In his rookie season in Cleveland, Mack rushed for 1,104 yards. The stat is more impressive when you remember Mack shared the backfield with Earnest Byner who rushed for 1,002 yards the same season.
Mack spent nine seasons with the Browns and received two Pro-Bowl selections during his time in orange and brown. All totaled, Mack accumulated rushing 5,123 yards with 46 touchdowns. Mack also added 1,602 receiving yards and eight touchdowns to his list of contributions to Cleveland.
The Browns are pinning their hopes on the broad shoulders of third year running back, Nick Chubb. The former Georgia Bulldog rushed for 996 yards in his rookie season and 1,494 yards in 2019. No matter who is under center in Cleveland, developing a tough and consistent running game will always be critical in Cleveland. The smash-mouth style of the AFC North Division demands it.