Cleveland Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson boosted his chances for a roster spot with a solid performance versus the Colts on August 17
Running back D’Ernest Johnson boosted his chances for a Cleveland Browns roster spot with a solid performance versus the Colts on August 17. On 10 carries, he gained 53 yards or 5.3 yards per carry, caught three passes for 26 yards, returned three kickoffs for 62 yards and also returned two punts for 10 yards.
That’s 151 all-purpose yards in about a half. And let’s not forget he picked up the blitz a few times also. Johnson saw action because Dontrell Hilliard is out with a pulled hamstring, and coach Freddie Kitchens preferred to keep Nick Chubb on the bench for a game that does not count in the standings.
Johnson was a standout last year for the Orlando Apollos of the now-defunct Alliance of Awful Football, where he was among the leading running backs in terms of rushing yards, yards per carry, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. Of course, his quarterback was Garrett Gilbert, who seems to be solidifying his challenge to become the second-string quarterback for the Browns.
This was a step up from his college career where he was a four-year starter at South Florida, where he had 949 yards from scrimmage as a senior and a rushing average of 4.1 yards per carry. He finished his career as the program’ leader in career all-purpose yards (4186) as well as pass receptions by a running back with 72. Those are very good numbers, but to make the NFL, a player is expected to be a superstar in college. Johnson was very good but not great, and moreover did not play in a major conference.
Also underwhelming is that Johnson is listed at 5-foot-10 and 208-pounds and ran a 4.79 at his Pro Day. Those numbers suggest a player who is undersized and slow, a bad combination for making a team. However, he has done nothing but perform since getting his shot in the AAF and now in the NFL preseason with the Browns.
Looks can be deceiving especially in the pre-season but he does not look like a slow player. In particular, it’s hard to hide lack of speed on kickoff returns, and Johnson looks much faster than 4.79. Could it be that something was wrong with that Pro Day time? Was he not at 100%? It is unbelievable that a player who seems to play with good speed could turn in such a slow time.
Also helping his case is that the Browns have parted with both Duke Johnson and blocking back Orson Charles, and could use some help with the running game. Dontrell Hilliard chose an inopportune time to pull a hamstring. Hilliard has done a lot of things well for the Browns in his two years with the team, but one thing he has not yet established is the ability to make yards on the ground consistently.
That of course, is the primary function of the running back, and at this point, Johnson holds a distinct edge after last week’s game in which Hilliard did not produce on the ground, and also put the ball on the turf near the goal line.
Johnson may have an edge, but is it enough to actually make the 53 player roster? There’s room on the roster for both Johnson and Hilliard, but there will also be some talented players on the waiver wire at the final cutdown.
Which will the Browns believe? Will they base their judgment on the tangibles of Johnson’s college stats and Pro Day measurements which say he is too small and too slow to succeed in the NFL? Or will they believe the production that they see on the field, albeit against mainly second-string performers on defense?