Cleveland Browns: Just how good was D’Ernest Johnson in Week 7?

The Cleveland Browns came through with a hard-nosed W over the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football, and D’Ernest Johnson deserves all the flowers.

Heading into a Thursday Night Football matchup against the visiting Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns, injury woes and all, needed to pull out a win. That was paramount.

The Broncos are not exactly a title contender, and to me, are not realistically a postseason team. Even taking that into account, with Cleveland being without Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Jack Conklin, and being very banged up, it was not a game that was a penciled-in W.

Granted, Teddy Bridgewater was not nearly 100 percent coming into the game, and was questionable originally, because of foot and quad ailments. He ended up being up-and-down in the game, as it played out, but he did make some plays; one should give him some credit for gutting it out to play and bringing Denver back some, anyhow.

Regardless, while the Broncos are far from an explosive offense, and one shouldn’t give Cleveland’s defense a ton of credit for holding them to 14 points on Thursday, a guy that deserves plenty of flowers is D’Ernest Johnson.

Johnson, a third-year running back, got his first career start on Thursday, and, simply put, delivered with a big-time performance, no matter the circumstances. In a game the Browns had to have, coming off two disappointing losses at the Los Angeles Chargers and then a blowout L to the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson got it done.

The former undrafted back out of South Florida, who was originally invited to the New Orleans Saints rookie minicamp, answered the bell in a big way. He had a career-best 146 yards on 22 carries, to go with a rushing touchdown.

His quickness, vision and cutting ability were often on display, and his tough running, combined with the Browns’ offensive line play, churned out valuable yardage time and time again. And to that point, it was fitting to see Pro Football Focus shout out Johnson for his performance on Thursday, which was the top-graded rushing game of the 2021 season thus far, per their grading.

Cleveland Browns: PFF showed all the love to Johnson, which was great to see

Johnson, as we’ve alluded to throughout, came up clutch in this outing for the Browns, who play host again to their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Halloween next Sunday.

In honestly a must-win for Cleveland, with the AFC North looking as strong as ever, and the AFC being the far superior conference, Johnson looked to be anything but a No. 3 back. He seemingly balanced when to hit holes that were there, hit the sensible cutbacks, and utilize patience to pick up additional yardage that was seemingly not there initially.

We’ve seen flashes from Johnson in the past few seasons, and he’s shown good feet and balance, paired with impressive vision, when his number has been called, albeit due to injury, mostly.

But as Thursday showed regarding him, 30 can get it done for the Orange and Brown, too. And one would imagine with Hunt sidelined, whereas we’ll have to see on if Chubb plays next week, Johnson will have a notable role in ensuing games for Cleveland.

Even with a great run-blocking line that did get Jedrick Wills Jr. back (ankle), Johnson has proven to be more than capable in his own right, as DPD’s Eddie McDonald highlighted. That’s very encouraging looking onward, and Johnson runs with passion, and the guys feed off that, one can tell.

We’ll have to see what plays out in relation to several Browns on the injury front, and there’s, unfortunately, uncertainty with Mayfield there, and Jarvis Landry appeared to have potentially injured his knee again versus Denver. The same went for Odell Beckham Jr. it seemed, involving his shoulder.

Circling back, however, as PFF’s tweet demonstrated, Johnson had a big-time performance for Cleveland in their 17-14 win in Week 7 and assuredly will be part of the puzzle from here. He’s more than just an amazing story as a former fisherman (of which you can view more on here, via Ben Axelrod of WKYC), too.

This 25-year-old back, despite being just 208 pounds, is yet another tough as nails runner for the Orange and Brown, and it’s been refreshing to see him getting love.