The Cleveland Browns created a seemingly enviable position last week with the signing of running back Kareem Hunt.
The trio of Hunt (2,984 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns in 27 career games), Nick Chubb (996 rushing yards, 10 combined touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie) and Duke Johnson (who averages almost 6.5 yards every time he touches the ball) gives the Browns one of the best backfields in the NFL and clearly the best backfield in the AFC North, as Joe Rutter points out at triblive.com.
There are still a couple of major hurdles the Browns have to clear before claiming that title, however, starting with the fact that no one yet knows when Hunt will be able to play, or let alone practice, with the Browns as the league is still reviewing his case.
The second part is the Browns have to resist the urge to trade Johnson.
That idea gained traction last week after general manager John Dorsey said that Johnson is not expendable “yet” during the press conference announcing Hunt’s signing, per NFL.com:
“I think Duke Johnson is a good football player. What it does is you have three very quality, really four quality individuals. You have three veterans in there now. I don’t think it makes him expendable yet. You have to go back and research and see moving forward what’s best for the organization.”
Johnson may have had a strange year in 2018 with career lows in rushing attempts and receptions, but he still averaged five yards per carry and 9.1 yards per reception.
He is also still the same player that the Browns signed to a contract extension prior to the season, one who set franchise records for a running back with 74 receptions and 693 receiving yards in 2017. Johnson had more than 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons, joining Herschel Walker as the only running backs in league history to achieve that.
Johnson has a career catch rate of 77.5 percent, another factor that makes his a reliable player to have on the field. (By comparison, Jarvis Landry’s career catch rate is 66 percent.)
Much of the talk surrounding the Browns as they move through free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft will be how the team needs to continue to add playmakers for quarterback Baker Mayfield.
So the idea of trading Johnson, one of the team’s most-productive players, seems to be a bit counterintuitive to the plan of giving the offense more options.
The Browns have been building something the past three years and that work will start paying off this fall. And when it does, Johnson should definitely remain a part of the plan.