Duke Johnson Jr. wants out from the Cleveland Browns, but there’s a very good reason the team is wanting to keep him around.
Johnson is one of the most lethal pass-catching backs in the game and provides an important wrinkle for the Browns’ offense.
Pro Football Focus provided a stat on Friday that noted Johnson’s wild efficiency in the passing game. His 6% drop rate ranked ninth in the NFL among running back with a minimum of 50 targets.
Johnson was targeted 62 times, according to Fantasy Pros, which was No. 17 last year among running backs. At the top of the list was Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who had a whopping 123.
Johnson, who also spent some time lining up in the slot, had 47 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns last season. While he does most of his damage in the passing game, Johnson added 40 carries for 201 yards on the ground. His number of carries and catches were career lows.
His total was a little down from previous year partly thanks to the emergence of Nick Chubb, among other things, like the team changing offensive play callers mid-season.
In his three previous seasons with the Browns, Johnson had over 500 yards receiving, earning him a reputation as a lethal target out of the backfield.
Duke Johnson Jr. Stands By Trade Request at Minicamp
Johnson requested the trade after Kareem Hunt was picked up in the offseason, seeing his role in the offensive shrinking to an insignificant size. He stood by the request when mandatory minicamp opened this week.
“I want to be somewhere I am wanted. I think at the end of the day that is all this is about is about being somewhere you are wanted,” Johnson said. “Nothing has changed. The only difference between last week and this week is this is mandatory, and I am here.”
“He wants to be traded,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said via Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network. “I want to win the lottery. It doesn’t matter. He’s under contract. He’s a Cleveland Brown he’s going to be used to the best of his ability in what benefits the team.”
Kitchens has maintained that will not be the case and Johnson will have a role in the offense — especially with Hunt out the first half of the season serving a suspension.
“Duke practiced today and he practiced hard,” Kitchens said. “I expect Duke to be a professional and I think he will be. He’s never been anything but a professional. Whatever his personal feelings are, those are his personal feelings. I’m not going to dictate someone’s feelings. Just like I told you about other players in the past, whatever their feelings are, they’re free to voice whatever they want to say.”
Some of his teammates have not taken the trade drama well, most notably Baker Mayfield, who had choice words for Johnson when minicamp opened up.
“It’s not awkward. It’s self-inflicted,” Mayfield said. “If someone wants to be here, they’ll be here,” Mayfield added. “You got guys in our locker room that are dying to get playing time and dying to be here. Duke has been here for years but it’s about what are you doing right now.”
He continued adding while Johnson had gone through a lot with the franchise —including an embarrassing 0-16 season — things are moving in a different direction now.
“I get it, Duke has been here for years, and I respect that,” Mayfield said.“But it’s about what you’re doing right now and what we’re going to do. The past is the past. … You’re either on this train or you’re not.”
If he wants out, he wants out. But if the Browns end up dealing the fifth-year back, the timing, and return, will have to be right.
For the time being, Johnson has said he will show up and do his job.