The Cleveland Browns saw a shakeup to their running back depth on Saturday as veteran back Duke Johnson Jr. sat out nursing a hamstring injury.
There were only three running backs (Nick Chubb, Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson) suited up for the team’s first day in pads, so in response, the Browns announced they were signing Ohio native A.J. Ouellette, an undrafted free agent who was originally with the Saints. He played his college ball at Ohio University.
While the Browns are still early in camp, the question remains as to what the depth at the position looks like. That topic has already been a conversation this offseason with Johnson asking for a trade out of Cleveland.
With the injuries and new addition, here is what the depth chart currently looks like for the Cleveland Browns at running back.
Nick Chubb is the Unquestioned Lead Back
For his second year in Cleveland, Nick Chubb is firmly installed as the starter for the Cleveland Browns. He has been healthy this training camp, has looked sharp in his reps and has continued to improve on his pass catching out of the backfield.
Chubb, a Georgia product, started nine games last season, rushing for 996 yards. He would have eclipsed the much sought after 1,000-yard mark, but had his final carry of his rookie season go for a five-yard loss, knocking him back into the triple digits. He also caught 20 balls for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Chubb hasn’t minded carrying the load so far in training camp.
“It’s not much different, but you’ve got to get your mind right because you know you’re going to get most of the reps,” Chubb said after Saturday’s practice. “That’s what happens when a guy goes down, it carries on to the people behind him. We do a good job of staying fresh. We’ve got all this time to recover, so it’s not too bad.”
Kareem Hunt Dealing With Injury, Suspension
The Browns decided to take a chance this offseason and signed Kareem Hunt, who is looking for a second chance after a disturbing incident where he was caught on video kicking and shoving a woman in a Cleveland hotel led to the Chiefs letting their Pro Bowl back loose.
General manager John Dorsey had a previous relationship with Hunt, having drafted him in Kansas City, which helped to Browns feel comfortable in bringing him aboard.
Hunt started camp on the active/non-football injury list with a groin injury and hasn’t been activated yet. However, even when he is, Hunt has to serve an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He can participate in the Browns preseason games.
When he is officially back in action, the Browns will have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.
Duke Johnson’s Injury Not Serious, Trade Request Still Stands
Head coach Freddie Kitchens addressed Johnson’s injury following Saturday’s practice and assured it wasn’t serious.
“We don’t know specifics. We are going to see how it progresses. Duke is a quick healer but we also want to be cautious from the standpoint of this guy has to play for us,” Kitchens told reporters after practice. “We have to make sure he’s healthy and it’s not something that lingers. Sometimes with these hamstrings, they linger. Duke will be fine but we want to err on the side of caution.”
Last offseason, Johnson signed a lucrative three-year, $15.6 million extension. His contract value is the 13th highest among running backs, according to Spotrac, just behind Panthers running back Christian McCaffery.
Johnson 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.
Johnson has requested a much-talked about trade from the Browns the offseason in the aftermath of the team signing Hunt. Both Kitchens and Dorsey have been firm that Johnson will have a role on this team, even after Hunt returns from suspension.
Hilliard Set For Breakout Year With Cleveland Browns
With Johnson disgruntled and missing the Browns optional OTAs, second-year back Dontrell Hilliard took advantage.
Hilliard was acquired as an undrafted free agent a year ago by the Browns out of Tulane and spent the first month of the season on the practice squad. After being elevated to the active roster, he appeared in 11 games, did not receive a carry. He did catch nine balls for 105 yards and will be in the mix to return kicks.
Best of the Rest: D’Ernest Johnson, Trayone Gray and Ouellette
The Browns will likely keep three running backs on the active roster, possibly four once Hunt returns if Duke Johnson is still around.
The Browns signed undrafted rookie D’Ernest Johnson this offseason after his stint in the AAF. He finished his year with the Orlando franchise ranked third in the league in rushing with 372 yards on 64 carries and two scores. Johnson played at USF and is the program’s all-time leader in all-purpose yardage (4,186)
Rookie Trayone Gray is currently on the active/non-football injury list with Hunt. He’s dealing with a calf injury. Ouellette is the latest addition and will have to make an impression in a hurry if he wants to stick around in Cleveland.