With the signing of Kareem Hunt, the Cleveland Browns have an embarrassment of riches at the running back position. Prior to the signing, the Browns had rookie Nick Chubb, who had an incredibly successful rookie campaign, the versatile Duke Johnson, and the serviceable Dontrell Hilliard.
With the addition of Hunt, the Browns now find themselves with a crowded RB room. Questions are lingering as we approach the free agency period and then the NFL Draft. The obvious questions have been around Johnson and whether or not he will be a Brown by the end of the offseason. General Manager John Dorsey has said he doesn’t find Johnson to be expendable, “yet.”
“Yet,” could mean any number of things, but just speculating: “Yet,” for Johnson, is this year’s NFL Draft.
The Browns have several needs on both sides of the ball, but looking at position value and who is available, they have no need to trade down for a defensive player. The team desperately need a true X receiver and there are several that could go quickly in this draft. The versatility of Johnson, along with Cleveland’s first-round pick and potentially one of the plethora of mid-rounders Cleveland holds, could be the key to working their way up to pick their guy.
This is par for the course in the NFL, but Dorsey has made it abundantly clear that he is willing to part with solid talent to better the team. Last fall, Carlos Hyde was enjoying a decent start but was shipped to Jacksonville as Dorsey found him expendable. This allowed Nick Chubb to become the feature back. Only the most stubborn fans would say it didn’t better the team.
Johnson and his talents are appreciated in Cleveland and many fans would be sad to see him go, but with the potential of Chubb, the known talent that is Hunt, and the serviceable backup that Hilliard is, Johnson is the odd man out. With the way new head coach Freddie Kitchens’ offense operated, Johnson did not touch the ball enough to warrant keeping him.
Pair that with how QB Baker Mayfield likes to naturally spread the ball and you have a situation where two things are occurring. One, despite Johnson’s talent, he isn’t good enough to warrant being a bell cow. Two, the level of talent Johnson does possess will be underutilized in this system.
I’d say the writing is on the wall and Johnson will no longer be on the roster by offseason’s end. I’d put my money on draft night where the Browns could do some addition by subtraction and get another key piece for Kitchens and Mayfield to work with.
The Browns are in the position to deal Johnson after a stellar rookie campaign from Nick Chubb and the off-season signing of Kareem Hunt. Chubb ran for 996 yards and scored eight touchdowns on 192 carries last season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also had 149 receiving yards and two receiving scores.
Hunt led the NFL in rushing during his rookie campaign in 2017 for the Kansas City Chiefs. He piled up 1,202 yards from scrimmage and 14 scores in 11 starts last season, before being released by Kansas City in December. Hunt signed with the Browns in February and was suspended for eight games in March for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Johnson was a third round pick by the Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Miami product had just 201 rushing yards in 2018, but pulled in 47 receptions for 429 yards and three scores through the air. The pass-catching dynamo signed a three-year, $15.61 million deal with the Browns in June. He is set to make $1.8 million in base salary in 2019, but also has a $750,000 signing bonus, $400,000 roster bonus and $100,000 workout bonus.