While the personnel in the front office—and frankly everywhere else—has changed frequently over the course of the past several years for the Cleveland Browns, one thing has been consistent, and that has been an organizational preference to stockpile draft picks, even if it means dealing former high-round draft picks who haven’t panned out.
Just last year, for example, they traded former first-round defensive tackle Danny Shelton and a fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots for a third. Shelton’s performance had not been in question and was in just his third season.
Perhaps it is in part because of their extensive history of moving players that teams are reportedly expressing interest in running back Duke Johnson, a dual threat who has largely been underutilized over the course of his career.
The Browns recently signed embattled running back Kareem Hunt to pair with 2018 second-round pick Nick Chubb, who had a very good rookie season. While the team waits to hear how long Hunt will be suspended, General Manager John Dorsey said of Johnson that he’s not expendable “yet”.
But multiple teams have put out feelers to Cleveland’s front office during the Combine, according to Mary Kay Cabot, and if they get the right offer, it’s likely that they would be willing to move on from him, as should be no surprise.
The four-year veteran saw career-lows in rushing attempts and receptions in 2018 working behind first Carlos Hyde, who was later traded, and then Chubb. He had just 40 rushing attempts despite producing 201 yards. His 47 receptions were also the first season below 50 he has had, but he made them count, gaining 429 yards with three touchdowns.
Since being drafted in the third round in 2015, Johnson has only recorded 299 rushing attempts and 235 receptions in spite of the fact that he has never missed a game. He is averaging just 8.34 touches per game, even though he has averaged 6.5 yards per touch, totaling 3456 yards from scrimmage with 13 touchdowns.
It’s worth noting that Johnson’s usage did not significantly improve after Hyde was traded or after Freddie Kitchens took over the offense. It’s unclear what Kitchens has planned for the running back as he takes over head coaching and play-calling duties over a full offseason, but obviously that will be a factor.
Still, if you can field a strong offer for your backup running back—Chubb is obviously going to be the starter—it’s something you’re going to have to consider, especially if you believe you’ve added a Pro Bowl-caliber backup on the cheap in Hunt, even if you have to wait out his suspension, which they hope to hear about by the start of the new league year.