By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Transaction: The Cleveland Browns sign Carlos Hyde to a 3-year deal
2018 Fantasy Outlook: Hyde is coming home! The former Ohio State Buckeye returns to Ohio on a three-year deal with the Browns. This feels like a classic case of a team with more cap space than they need and signing a player they don’t really need. Yes, I’m aware that their starting running back was a free agent and signed elsewhere — Isaiah Crowell signed with the Jets — and therefore had a hole to fill, but the Browns are not a team trying to sign a bunch of veteran players to second contracts. They’re investing in draft picks and younger, cost-controlled players. From that perspective, the Hyde signing raises questions.
Here’s what you need to know. The last two seasons, Hyde has finished as RB15 and RB10 in fantasy. Both years he topped 1,100 total yards and combined for 17 TDs. Those aren’t terrible numbers. Last year even saw him with 59 receptions for 350 yards. For a guy who never had more than 27 catches in a season — the one and only year Chip Kelly was the head coach — that’s an impressive feat and showed his versatility to an offense. Hyde also played in all 16 games for the first time in his career and had 8 rushing TDs which was tied for 6th in football.
We know Hyde can play and he’s not a terrible football player. He’s frustrating as all hell to own in fantasy because you just never knew if he was going to be healthy enough to suit up. He proved good value as 3rd/4th round pick with 214.00 fantasy points. So how does he fit in Cleveland? We’ll know that answer for certain when the draft rolls around as there is a ton of speculation the Browns may in fact select Penn State RB Saquon Barkley with one of their two 1st round picks. Let’s play out a couple of scenarios so that you’re prepared for whatever comes on April 26th.
If the Browns decline to select Barkley, Hyde will be their 1st and 2nd down runner. Without LT Joe Thomas, the Browns offensive line isn’t anywhere near as strong as the last couple of seasons. Good news for Hyde though is that he does some of his best work in yards after contact. In 2016, Hyde averaged 4.6 yards per carry with an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the 5th worst in football. Of his 988 rushing yards, 662 of them came after first contact. That number fell to 602 in 2017 when the 49ers provided their running backs an average of 1.86 yards before first contact, seventh in the league. Despite his career high in receptions last year, he’s atrocious in pass blocking. He graded as the worst running back in the NFL in pass protection. As I said, he’s off the field on obvious passing downs, opening things up for Duke Johnson Jr. Expect maybe 15 catches in 2018, down from 59, and I would say about 850 yards rushing with 7 TDs.
If the Browns do select Barkley, you can kiss the value Hyde had goodbye. He’ll be the 3rd RB, behind Barkley and Johnson. The situation will play out similarly to Minnesota in 2017 when they signed Latavius Murray in free agency and drafted Dalvin Cook. The only reason Murray saw any value in 2017 was because of the knee injury Cook suffered early in the season. I expect Barkley to be a top 10 option in fantasy if he lands in Cleveland. He’s adept in pass protection and we know about his receiving skills. This will subsequently kill Johnson’s fantasy value as well. They brought in Jarvis Landry via trade so Johnson is effectively the backup to him in the slot. I hope Hue Jackson gets creative on offense, otherwise Johnson won’t sniff his RB12 finish from 2017.
As you can see, a lot can happen for Cleveland’s running backs depending on how the draft unfolds. Personally, I’m rooting for Barkley to land there even though I love Duke Johnson Jr. and want to see him succeed. It’ll make their offense much more dynamic and give Tyrod Taylor more weapons than he knows what to do with. But be prepared if the Browns receive an offer they can’t refuse on draft day or decide they need a young defender like Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Derwin James more than the best player in this year’s draft. In that case, I would rank Johnson above Hyde, but for a 7th round pick, Hyde could easily put up top 20 numbers at the position.