Proposed Trade Sends Browns RB to Banged Up AFC West Squad

D'Ernest Johnson

Getty Images Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns reaches to hand off to D'Ernest Johnson.

The Cleveland Browns have yet to utilize running back D’Ernest Johnson, which makes him a prime trade target for a team like the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos are down their lead back in Javonte Williams, who is done for the season with a torn ACL. His primary backup is Melvin Gordon III but he had just three carries in a 19-16 overtime loss to the Chargers, with the Broncos choosing instead to go with the well-traveled Latavius Murray for the bulk of the work.

Johnson is coming off a breakout season but has yet to find much work with the Browns this year behind Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb on the depth chart. Johnson has played 10 total snaps on offense — nine of those coming last week against the Patriots. He caught two passes for nine yards.

Johnson has been a consistent part of the “NFL Trade-Block Big Board” put together by Bleacher Report and the Rams and Broncos were the most recent teams mentioned as possible suitors for his services. Like the Broncos, the Rams depth at the running back position has dwindled, particularly with the team searching for a trade partner for Cam Akers.

The Rams would be a logical landing spot given their struggles on the ground and the situation with Akers. It wouldn’t mark the first deal between Cleveland and Los Angeles this year either. The Browns traded cornerback Troy Hill to the Rams in April.

The Denver Broncos would also make sense as a suitor. Javonte Williams is done for the season with a torn ACL, while Melvin Gordon III (three carries) fell out of the game plan during Monday night’s loss.

Johnson Has Shown Potential When Given Work

D'Ernest Johnson, Browns

GettyD’Ernest Johnson of the Cleveland Browns

With Chubb and Hunt banged up last season, Johnson made an impression and capitalized on his opportunities when his number was called. Johnson started a pair of games and finished the season with 534 yards on 100 carries and three touchdowns.

He was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated running back with a rushing grade of 90.6 and also collected contributed in the passing game, collecting 19 receptions for 137 yards.

While Johnson never voiced his displeasure, Johnson had refused to sign his unrestricted free agent tender with the Browns this offseason. He ended up agreeing to a one-year deal worth the same value of $2.43 million as the tender would have been, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, with the difference being his guaranteed money, which comes in at $900,000.

Browns Run Game Keeps Trucking Despite Struggles

Kevin Stefanski: "We have to pick each other up" | Press ConferenceCoach Stefanski addresses the media on October 17th, 2022. #MondayMedia #PressConference2022-10-17T17:20:53Z

The Browns sit at just 2-4 but are just one game behind AFC North leaders Baltimore and Cincinnati. They’ll see both division foes over the next two weeks, which will really sort out where they sit after eight weeks.

If the Browns hope to have success, they’ll have to rely on their stout running game, which is tops in the NFL with 172 yards per game. Chubb and Hunt were held to just 70 yards last week in a loss to the Patriots but is was more due to lack of opportunity. Chubb notched a season-low 12 carries, while Hunt had just four.

Browns head coach and offensive play-caller Kevin Stefanski that was due in part to the game flow, with Cleveland being forced to play from behind.

“We go into every game, as you can imagine, wanting to make sure that our guys are touching the ball,” Stefanski said on October 17. “We talk about it throughout the game about what their touches are and those type of things. Sometimes the score and the game dictate that you have to play catch up.”

Chubb currently leads the leage in rushing with 649 yards with a 5.9 yards per carry average.

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