Cleveland Browns UDFA No. 11: D’Ernest Johnson, running back, Class of 2019
D’Ernest Johnson is in his fourth year with the Browns, and he may very well be traded because the Browns have plenty of bodies in the backfield, and not so many roster spots. But before we usher him to the door let’s take a little peek at the numbers and realize that DEJ has been amazingly productive in the limited opportunities he has had.
But even before discussing his numbers, in which your humble correspondent dares to compare Jim Brown, Josh Cribbs, Nick Chubb, Bobby Mitchell, and DEJ, let’s not get carried away. Jim Brown is flatly the best football player of all time. The quarterback may impact the game more, so I will not cross swords with fans of Otto Graham and the current King, Tom Brady, but Jim Brown was the greatest player ever in this fan’s opinion.
Brown never missed a game in his entire career, took a pounding like no one else, and blocked like a madman for his teammates. Speaking of which, I never realized until doing research for this article, that Cribbs, Chubb, Mitchell, and Johnson actually had more yards per carry than Brown.
For those not familiar with Mitchell’s career, he was a halfback for Cleveland and was traded to Washington for the right to draft Ernie Davis. Washington used him as a flanker and he made All-Pro at that position and led the NFL in receiving yards. So, no, essentially nobody thinks he was a better running back than Jim Brown, and it is realized that having fullback Brown act as a lead blocker was a sweet gig for a halfback with breakaway speed like Mitchell.
The chart below (stats throughout this article are derived from Pro Football Reference) is truly weird because probably few among us would have guessed that anyone could have had higher career yards per carry than Jim Brown. Now, please, nobody is saying that any of these players is better than Jim Brown, but perhaps we should now ask the question if a player can average the same or better yards per carry that Mr. Brown did over an extended period of time, shouldn’t the team consider playing that individual a little bit?
Perhaps the Browns should think twice before replacing Johnson. A side issue is that perhaps Josh Cribbs could have been given some more touches on offense during his career. More on Cribbs a bit later in this article.
PLAYER CARRIES YARDS YARDS/CARRY
Joshua Cribbs 141 808 5.73
Bobby Mitchell 423 2297 5.43
Nick Chubb 908 4816 5.30
D’Ernest Johnson 137 721 5.26
Jim Brown 2359 12312 5.22
Johnson came to the Browns in 2019 after starring in the short-lived Alliance of American Football. Johnson came from a small school and was too small and too slow (4.81 seconds in the 40-yard dash)to make an impact in the NFL. General manager John Dorsey thought differently and offered him a contract. Working out with Olympian Tim Montgomery at NUMA Speed seems to have helped him to significantly surpass his Pro Day ratings.
This offseason, he was a Restricted Free Agent (meaning that the Browns tended a $2.3 million non-guaranteed contract offer), but even the mighty Rosenhaus Sports Agency could not elicit a better counteroffer from any of the 31 other NFL teams, so Johnson remains a Brown with a $2.3 million non-guaranteed deal.
He hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to play with the Browns. When Nick Chubb was down and Kareem Hunt was physically at maybe 75% versus Arizona last season, the Browns preferred to have Hunt carry the entire load rather than play Johnson, and the result was that Hunt aggravated his injury late in the game.
However, Johnson finally had a breakout game versus Denver the following week, gaining 146 yards on 22 carries (6.64 yards/carry). He wound up with 534 rushing yards and 671 total yards from scrimmage last season.
Maybe it is time to get over the Pro Day results and stop assuming that he has to be ushered out the door. Perhaps the Browns should go ahead and allow him to shoulder his share of the rushing burden, along with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt?