The Cleveland Browns may have a secret weapon they’ve kept quiet for the last year-plus.
That is the prediction of Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame with regards to second-year player Jerome Ford, who is behind arguably the best running back in football in Nick Chubb on the depth chart heading into the 2023 campaign.
Talking to people around the Browns, there’s excitement about Ford. After letting Kareem Hunt hit free agency, Ford was elevated to second-string behind Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, putting him in line for a decent amount of work.
Last year, Hunt notched 123 carries, most of which will now go to Ford. At 220 pounds, Ford saw most of his action as a kick returner last year, totaling 723 yards on 30 runbacks. Now, he’ll join the backfield on a more consistent basis after only eight carries as a rookie.
Jerome Ford Has Limited NFL Experience, Concerning Injury History
The antithesis of Verderame’s argument is included in its own last sentence — that Ford carried the ball exactly eight times during his freshman NFL season. For the record, he also gained 12 yards.
In fairness, just as teams can only beat the competition scheduled for them, players can only prove themselves in the windows that their organizations allow. That Ford’s window will be much wider in 2023 isn’t in question. That he will remain healthy enough to run through it to considerable success is less certain.
Ford is currently rehabilitating from a hamstring injury he suffered during a training camp practice in the first part of August. While he and head coach Kevin Stefanski believe Ford will be healthy enough to play in the team’s regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the injury issues are cause for some concern on a macro level.
The Browns sent Ford to the injured reserve list (IR) for four weeks in October 2022 after he sustained an ankle injury on special teams during a game against the Atlanta Falcons. The fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati has now suffered two meaningful injuries that have each sidelined him for multiple weeks before even reaching 10 career carries.
Ford’s two injuries don’t constitute a trend, nor are they proof that he is injury-prone. That said, Ford’s early history of health issues is more than nothing.
Hamstring Injury Hampered Jerome Ford’s Preseason Work With Browns
Assuming Ford remains healthy for much, or all, of the year, his breakout candidacy might prove a little slower in developing than some of the other candidates on Verderame’s list.
The hamstring issue has hampered Ford’s preseason preparation. He told reporters last week that this time around the injury hasn’t been as disruptive to his routine, though it has been a disappointing battle through which to work.
“Just seeing everybody compete and not being able to be out there and compete and have fun with the team and gel with everybody while playing football, it was definitely disappointing,” Ford said during a press conference on Thursday, August 31. “I was able to build a routine early, even with being injured. And last year I had an injury also that took me away for a little bit, and it kind of messed up my routine. But with getting into it so early and being able to create a routine even though I was injured, I feel like it was a big step from where I was last year.”