Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Mar 2007

Browns Sign Jamal Lewis

In 2004, the 32nd-ranked offensive line in the league, Miami, drafted Ronnie Brown. They also added Hudson Houck. The 31st-ranked team, the 49ers, picked up Frank Gore. Miami's rush offense went up to 14th in the league; San Francisco stayed at 30.

After the 2005 season, the 32nd-ranked offensive line in the league, Arizona, signed Edgerrin James in free agency. The 31st-ranked team, the Vikings, added Chester Taylor. They ended up with the 29th and 23rd best rushing attacks in the league in 2006, respectively.

Now it's 2006, and the 32nd-ranked offensive line in the league, Detroit, has traded for Tatum Bell. The 31st-ranked team, the Browns, have just signed Jamal Lewis.

Maybe one day, teams will learn that sticking a brand new engine (or a sputtering engine in the case of our most recent free agent signing) on a car with four flat tires doesn't make it run much farther.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 08 Mar 2007

36 comments, Last at 09 Mar 2007, 11:20am by Abarine


by ArizonaCardinalsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 11:29am

Ah, but Cleveland added Steinbach this year too...make that 3 flat tires and a donut spare.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 11:34am

So, how many positions are the Ravens going to make a need position before the draft? With Mulitalo's release, they could draft G, T, RB, or LB and fill a hole.

And that doesn't even include secondary and corner depth. Ozzie, WTF is going on?

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 11:53am

Re 2

Supposedly, they're targeting Willis McGahee in free agency, so that might backfill one of those holes. Of course, whether McGahee is a real solution is open to discussion.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 11:54am

Re 2:
Even with Jamal Lewis, RB should have been a need position. At least Brian Billick won't inexplicably start Lewis over a better player now.

Wonder if Mike Anderson's got anything left in the tank.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 11:59am

Hey but it doesn't matter, Brian Billeck is an offensive genius. Him and Tony Dungy should get together and coach a team. Billeck with the offense and Dungy with the defense. 16-0 baby.

by Nathan (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 12:22pm

At what level do you think an offensive line and a back need to gel? Is it all O-Line skill, and then back gets whatever is after those initial blocks, or does scheme and teamwork matter quite a bit?

Can an O-Line that is equally average be good for one back and not another, but an O-Line equally good but in different ways be good for the other back, and not for the first.

Curious for opinions, thanks.

Good luck to Lewis, I've always liked him.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 12:44pm

Depends on the blocking schemes.

The most underrated part of backs is how they read blocks. You can see and measure a guys height, weight, speed, strength at the gym, but it is harder to determine how well a guy will read his blocks. There was an interview on the NFL N a couple of nights ago with Curtis Martin. They were asking him advice for young backs and it was to properly learn how to read blocks.

How many times did you see Jerome Bettis on the sidelines talking with Willie Parker doing hand signals talking about how to read the flow of the play.

Different teams have different blocking schemes. The Colts, Denver, Giants run a lot of those stretch run plays.

I think it is more of a question of the line doing their job, and the running back being able to read the flow of the play to maximize his carry.

I noticed early on last year that Arizona barley ever pulled lineman and tried to have thier blockers just bowl over the guy in front of him ( it didn't work).

Look at a team like Washington. They were a tail of two lines last year. Earlier in the year the pulled their guards and attacked the peremeter ( al saunders), but later in the year they tried to over power the D-Line with more straight ahead blocking ( joe gibbs).

But if a line can consistantly take a RB to the "second level" like Seattle and KC a couple of years ago, it would vastly enhance the appearance of any runningback.

So to answer your question, two equally talented O-Lines can have dramatically different results ( because they may be trying to do different things). Even a team like Washington could have the very same line and achieve different results.

by OMO (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 1:20pm

"But if a line can consistantly take a RB to the “second level� like Seattle and KC a couple of years ago, it would vastly enhance the appearance of any runningback."

The "second level"?

Please stop. No one is taking you seriously...we get enough talking head babble from PK and the rest of the media...

by Jeff (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 1:31pm

Re 3:

"Supposedly, they’re targeting Willis McGahee in free agency"

McGahee would have to be acquired via trade though. Which could fill a hole by creating another.

by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 1:34pm

Denver (aka, insert back yadayada)
Rush Rank:
2006, 20th;
2005, 1st;
2004, 13th;
2003, 6th

NFL #1 / #2 rush ranked:
2006, SD/Phi
2005, Den/SD
2004, KC/Atl
2003, KC/SD

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 1:37pm

It's Mr. Omo again. The basher!

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 1:54pm

The “second level�?

Past the defensive line ("first level"). The linebackers are the second level, and the secondary is the third level.

by wr (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:18pm

ESPN is reporting that Buffalo has traded Maghee to the Ravens for draft picks.

by Adam B. (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:21pm

WR: A 3 and a 7 this year, plus a 3 next year. Who starts in Buffalo?

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:25pm

Why's everyone talk yang about Chris? I don't always agree with him but I for one think he's trying to take conversation here to the second level, which I appreciate.

by wr (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:25pm

14 - Excellent question, to which I have no good answer. Maybe they think they can just draft a replacement?

by Nathan (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:27pm

Second Level makes perfect sense. Thank you for the response Chris.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:36pm

For example, watch an Arizona game and watch Edge take the handoff, run to the line, and either get smacked at the line of scrimege or run into the back of an offensive lineman ( because there is no hole).

If a Running back can get past the firs line he can really showcase his power, speed, vision, shiftyness, or whatever else makes him good. If he beats a LB, S or two he might be able to have a big gain and get on sports center.

I thought the Giants would maybe go for Mcghee, but a 3 and a 7 doesn't sound terribly pricey ( especially a later 3rd round pick). Maybe Billick would like to employ a more passing/ pass catching RB offense.

Looks like Buffalo signs one of the remaining FA's ( like Corey Dillon, Rhodes, Duckett) or drafts a RB. They just signed 2 massive offensive lineman and could sign a power back like Duckett or Dillion to run behind them in that cold weather. Maybe they would even consider trading up with say the Browns to grab a guy like Adrian Peterson?

by jimmo (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:49pm

Does Peterson still land in Cleveland with Lewis on board? If Cleveland passes on him, he could slide down a bit, barring trades. Buffalo at 12 is the first team with a clear need at RB. They have the draft picks to conceivably move up to six or seven and snag him there, but would they have to? Could we have a RB-less Top Ten this year?

by jimmo (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 2:51pm

well, hell, I guess a RB-less Top Ten is not all that rare. Anyway, I'm guessing Cleveland still takes Peterson at #3...

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 3:14pm

So Chris, did Tony Dungy run over your dog or something? Are you trying to overtake my record for most slams of someone in completely unrelated threads? Because if I have to break the Davenport poop jokes out again, things are going to get messy around here. Messy like a Miami co-ed's hamper.

As a Browns fan, let me just greet this signing with the most sincere "whoop-de-$%!*" I can muster.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 3:24pm

I don't understand why they bothered to sign Lewis, especially if reports of the contract are correct. The guy hasn't shown much for two years. If there's no guaranteed $ in this contract, I would be surprised to see him released before the regular season begins.

Regarding the Browns draft plans, I agree with the thinking (expressed in other threads) that they are in prime position to trade down. They need talent upgrades at lots of positions so whether they end up Peterson, or Quinn, or DL, or CB isn't really critical. And while it seems unlikely that anyone would trade up to #3 for Peterson or Quinn, it seems reasonable to believe that there would be legitimate interest in trading to that spot for Thomas or Calvin Johnson whichever is available.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 3:32pm


I agree that RB was something to lok for in the draft -- I would love it if Michael Bush was still there in the second round.

At the risk of dragging a couple of posters into this, I'm also thinking that the pick structure worked out the way it did because of compensatory picks the Ravens will get. There's not a big difference in the charts between 93 and 97, if, as I suspect, a comp pick will come after the third round.

So, unless they really like Marc Columbo, it looks like the Ravens will go O-line at number 29. Arron Sears or Ben Grubbs, anyone?

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 3:48pm

While some people on this website pretend that RB's are completely replaceable, it's not the case. The running game is only as good as the weakest of your blockers (O-line + TE + FB), your RB, and your passing game (to keep the safety out of the box). Lets face it...Cleveland has a lot of weakness. While it's true that getting anyone short of LdT if you have a bad O-line won't help significantly (although it could help a little--Miami's running game this year was averaging ~1-2 ypc with Brown, but would have been running -3 - 0 ypc with a less talented back), if your RB is bad (i.e. Reuben Droughns, in my opinion), then the best O-line in the world won't help, or at least not much.

I just hope they didn't sign Lewis to too huge a contract. But if it's reasonable, it is an upgrade.

by Ilanin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 4:13pm

So, Chris, did you actually watch any Cardinals games this year, or are you just going on what the talking heads told you? Because what *actually* happened in Arizona, after the first few games which were awful, was that the line began to settle down and started to improve. By Week 12 or so, Edge wasn't getting stuffed at the line much more than any other tailback, and overall on the year Arizona's ALY was #23, not good but not awful. The Cardinals need to continue to improve on their lines, but Edge's YPC average was 3.4 without a single run of 20 yards or more. FO research (article by Mike Tanier has been linked in my name) has shown that yards per carry averages are skewed upwards by long runs, and Edge didn't break any in Arizona. I don't know how much of that you can blame on the blocking, but it seems to me they're getting him out to the second level just fine, but no further - he's getting hit by safeties and linebackers after short gains, not breaking into open field. Speaking as an almost-Cardinals-fan (I'm a Steelers fan who cheers the Cardinals on unless they're playing Pittsburgh) who watched a bunch of Arizona games last year, this sounds like my experience too. Arizona could use an improvement on the line, but what they really need to do is turn some of those 4-5 yard carries into 25 yard gains.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 5:16pm

LLanin- I watched every single cards game 2 years ago, and MOST of them this year. I have direct ticket and try and watch/tivo the Seattle, Arizona, SF games. I also quit watching NFL pregame shows a few years ago ( so no talking heads).

The line "improved" when Leinart started playing and not holding onto the ball for 4 seconds or longer like Warner did. The threat of a quicker passing game helped open it up. ( The Bears game highlights this).

Like I said, I also noticed more pulling later in the year. Earlier on ( and last year), the RB would run up to the line and there would be nothing there. When Leinart had that threat of a pass, it made Edges job a lot easier. I thought JJ Arrington was terrible two years ago by the way. Too much pussyfooting around and not enough north south running.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 6:36pm

It is very, very, often misleading to attempt to analyze offensive line or running back performance without taking into account qb and receiver performance. Of course, analyzing qb performance without reference to o-line performance is just as often misleading, but for some reason people recognize this much more easily.

The Vikings did not err in signing Chester Taylor, and they did not err (common misconceptions aside) by overypaying for Steve Hutchinson. They erred by having Brad Johnson as starting qb, and they really, really, erred by entering training camp with Mike McMahon as number 2 qb. They also erred in using a top-ten draft pick on a receiver who can't catch, and by counting on a hard- core drunk of a receiver to stay sober. That they were able to run as well as they did with this group of qbs and receivers indicates that the o-line and rbs didn't play too badly. Put the Cardinals' qbs and receivers in Vikings' uniforms and you would very, very, likely have a top-10 offense, with a good chance of it being a a top-5 offense. With Leinert starting 16 games, the Cardinals offense could be a top 15 offense anyways, with the offensive line they had in 2006.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2007 - 7:24pm

What I noticed from Jamal (and the rest of the league noticed also) is that when there is an immeadiate hole in front of him, he hits it hard and can still bowl over guys (the play where he ran over Joey Porter was probably the highlight of the season). He's still a strong SOB.

BUT when the defense cloggs the middle of the field and the LBs bunch toward the center, Lewis simply cannot bounce to the outside, so he stutter steps and gains 1 or 2 yards at most. I wouldn't say he is physically done because he can still be effective between the tackles, but he is very easy to defend because his limitations are so obvoius.

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 12:08am

Johnny, you got it. You clearly want Lewis running North/South and bowling people over. He's a big back that isn't as effective running east/west.

Will Allen got it too. The Cards LINE seemed to improve when there was a Quarterback change. Leinart gets rid of the ball quicker than Warner which effectivly makes the lines job easier ( they have to block less). I don't know why more people don't realize these types of things but I am glad you do.

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 2:02am

Detroit's problem was the health of the OL. Besides Raiola and Backus-the other 3 spots on the OL was a turnstile. That hurt the run game, as did the Lions overall suckiness which allowed Martz to decide to throw the ball on every down. Plus by the end of the season the Lions were down to 5th string Rbs....

by Anthony (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 6:38am

Jonny/Chris, then why was he so effective in 2003?

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 8:40am

He was faster then. I think the age bug hit him very early.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 9:16am

Agreeing with #32, I would add that I think it's very difficult for guys as big as Lewis to hold their speed for many years. At their peaks, guys like Lewis are physical beasts. But they just can't seem to maintain that peak for long.

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 11:09am

I agree Lewis was fater. I think injuring his leg and spending the summer in prison also really hurt him. You can't "get your wind back" when your in a jail cell.

I also have a suspicion that Lewis Roided in 03' when he said he trained "extra hard", said he was going to have a monster year, and was an absolute beast. I have no data to support that other than seeing other juicers.

by Chris (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 11:11am

Lewis also had that injury at Tennesse and could have slipped in the draft, but he ran a 4.3 as a big back and just had so much potential that the Ravens took him that high.

He was the SB as a rookie and Priest Holmes had to sit and watch him bowl over defenders.

Lewis at his Prime was sick. You have to understand he was a big back that was faster than almost every player on the field.

by Abarine (not verified) :: Fri, 03/09/2007 - 11:20am

The weird thing about the Browns OL is that they're in the top three when it comes to "power" running: running for one or two yards, goal line runs, that kind of thing. Either that's some kind of statistical anomaly, or the Browns' had a running back problem they couldn't fix; the fact that we're like 31st in runs over ten yards is pretty telling, too.

I dunno...for basically the same amount of money, Cleveland gets a better version of the guy they already have, and they get him for a year. If we draft Peterson with Jamal, it's essentially the same thing as drafting Peterson with Reuben.