Duke Johnson’s versatility an asset to Browns offense

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns need all the help they can get on offense, which is why Duke Johnson’s versatility is an asset.

The Cleveland Browns will have a considerably different look in head coach Hue Jackson’s second year in charge.

There will be three new starters on the offensive line, a new starter (or perhaps two) at quarterback at some point during the season, a new starting tight end, as well as a new starting wide receiver.

The constant, beside always-present left tackle Joe Thomas, comes at the running back position.

Isaiah Crowell is looking to improve on his 2016 season, when he led the Browns in rushing touchdowns with seven, averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and just missed out on the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his NFL career. Crowell is also playing on a one-year contract, meaning that the carrot of a big payday at the end of the season will keep him motivated.

Crowell will be the focus of the running game, but opposing defenses would be wise not to sleep on third-year running back Duke Johnson.

While he did not receive as many rushing opportunities in 2016 as Crowell (73 rushes vs. 198), Johnson made the most of his opportunities by averaging 4.9 yards per carry. And on a team where the wide receivers are still finding their footing, Johnson is a talented option in the passing game as he has averaged almost 900 yards of combined offense the past two seasons.

Together, Johnson and Crowell have given the Browns an average of 1,972 yards from scrimmage in their two seasons together, a number that Jackson will certainly take any day of the week, according to clevelandbrowns.com:

"“He can catch out of the backfield. He runs the ball. We line him up in different places where we can get an advantage with him. He is a weapon for us. We are just trying to use him as much as we can, and we do. He has to bounce around to a lot of different rooms. That is why I said we ask a lot of him. He has responded well.”"

There has been talk early on in training camp that the Browns are converting Johnson into a slot receiver, an idea that both Jackson and Johnson have downplayed. There is no doubt that Johnson will move into a receiver’s position out of the backfield at times, just as he has done for the past two seasons, but a full position switch seems a bit odd.

Next: Browns: Top 10 rushing games (Part 2)

After all, why would Jackson want to mess up one of the few bright spots on offense?