Falcons Encouraged to Trade for Browns RB

Kareem Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson

Getty One of these Browns' RBs could be the workhorse the Falcons need.

There’s no shortage of potential lead running backs for the Atlanta Falcons headed into the 2022 NFL season. Yet, the rotation also appears to be more about quantity over quality.

General manager Terry Fontenot reshuffled the deck by signing Damien Williams in free agency and drafting Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round. There should still be room for one more tough runner, though, a talented back for the Cleveland Browns who is stifled by the presence of two Pro-Bowlers ahead of him.

This three-year pro could go from bit-part player to primary workhorse for the Falcons and head coach Arthur Smith, according to one NFL writer. The likely jump in workload makes a trade worth exploring.

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Browns Deputy Has Attributes the Falcons Need

D’Ernest Johnson is the player Smith needs to be his “bell-cow back,” according to Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox. He believes Johnson’s best chance to shine will come away from a Browns rotation headlined by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Knox thinks the Falcons offer Johnson the best opportunity because of the question marks about their own options: “Cordarrelle Patterson is a fine complementary runner-receiver, but he’s not an every-down ball-carrier. Atlanta’s other backs include Damien Williams—who opted out of the 2020 season and carried just 40 times with the Chicago Bears in 2021—and rookie fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier.”

As Knox points out, none of the backs currently on the roster look capable of being what Derrick Henry was for Smith when he was offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. Johnson could be different after averaging 5.3 yards per carry last season. He rushed for 534 yards and three touchdowns on just 100 attempts after entering the lineup to cover injuries to Chubb and Hunt.

Johnson’s breakout moment came against the Denver Broncos in Week 7, per Pro Football Network:

While Johnson proved he could pound between the tackles, his best attribute was a flair for gaining yardage in chunks. The 5’10”, 208-pounder showcased a true flair for the big play by averaging an eye-watering 14.5 yards on four carries against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

Johnson’s big day included this swift third-down conversion highlighted by PFF CLE Browns:

The combination of brute force, elusiveness and acceleration is what every coach craves from a lead back. Johnson proved he has those traits, finishing last season in style by rushing for 123 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Performances like these encouraged the Browns to bring Johnson back on a one-year deal, but the 26-year-old still figures to be nothing more than a supporting act for Chubb and Hunt.

Falcons Have Room for a New No.1 RB

Johnson’s situation could change if the Browns decided to move on from Hunt. The latter wants to stay in Cleveland “long-term,” per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain-Dealer:

If Hunt gets his wish, the Browns may not have room for all three of their gifted running backs. It’s a different story in Atlanta, where the Falcons could make space for a genuine No. 1 rusher.

Patterson filled that role admirably last season, rushing for 610 yards and six touchdowns. Smith needed Patterson to take the reins because Mike Davis was a disappointment.

Things are different now, with Davis a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Converted wide receiver Patterson may also be needed to play his former position more often, following Calvin Ridley’s suspension for betting violations and Russell Gage joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Fontenot drafted Drake London eighth overall and traded for Bryan Edwards, but the wideout room would look stronger with Patterson lining up outside more often this year. That would leave Williams and Allgeier battling for the lion’s share of the carries.

Williams was never the primary runner for the Kansas City Chiefs, nor the Chicago Bears. He’s more of a complementary all-rounder.

Allgeier was a bruising workhorse for BYU, rushing 276 times for 1,601 yards during his final season for the Cougars. His numbers are impressive, but Allgeier still faces an uphill battle to go from late-round draft pick to main man in the backfield as a rookie.

Trading a third-rounder next year to put Johnson into the rotation now would give the Falcons the legitimate 20-25-carry back Smith needs to make his offense work.

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