D’Ernest Johnson is coming off a breakout year with the Cleveland Browns but is a prime trade candidate during training camp.
Despite his solid showing last season, Johnson finds himself as the third on the Browns’ depth chart, behind star back Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland also has rookie Jerome Ford waiting in the wings, as well as hybrid back Demetric Felton, who can also contribute in the passing game.
That could leave Johnson as the odd man out and ESPN’s Jake Trotter believes he’ll be with a new team by the time training camp is over. Per Trotter:
The Browns will trade running back D’Ernest Johnson during training camp. Yes, Johnson is coming off a breakout season filling in for injured teammates Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and Johnson signed a one-year extension with the Browns during the offseason. But Cleveland also drafted another running back in Jerome Ford, a fifth-round selection out of Cincinnati, who flashed a versatile skill set during OTAs and minicamp. With second-year playmaker Demetric Felton also returning, the Browns will move Johnson to a more running back-needy team.
D’Ernest Johnson Stepped Up Last Season Amid Injuries
Johnson could be a low-cost, high-upside acquisition for a team looking to improve their ground game. While he might not find a lot of work with the Browns if he stays put, Johnson has shown that he’s capable of making the most out of a full workload. And he’d certainly welcome a larger role ahead of becoming a free agent next offseason.
With Hunt and Chubb banged up, Johnson started a pair of games and finished the season with 534 yards on 100 carries and three touchdowns. He also added 19 receptions for 137 yards.
Johnson took a windy road to the NFL, spending time playing with the Alliance of American Football after starring at USF. And it was just a few years ago that he was working on a fishing boat after going undrafted to make ends meet.
After his first start in which he collected 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, head coach Kevin Stefanski made sure to give some props.
“We got a team win. I could single out a bunch of guys, but D’Ernest Johnson to me is a warrior and a great teammate,” Stefanski said after the game. “What he has fought through in his career and then to go have a night like that and to end it how he did on that this down, I thought was just outstanding.”
Johnson agreed to a one-year extension this offseason with the Browns after initially refusing to sign his restricted free agent tender. He ended up agreeing to a one-year deal worth the same value of $2.43 million as the tender but received $900,000 guaranteed.
D’Ernest Johnson Sent a Message to Doubters
Johnson has likely heard the rumblings about his future and decided to send a message for those doubting him in a tweet.
“I Know There’s A Lot Of People That Counted Me Out Or Is Counting Me Out,” Johnson said. “Being Doubted Is What Made Me The Person I Am Today. Underdog Mentality SlowGrind,” Johnson tweeted on July 21.
Hunt is also entering the final year of his deal with the Browns and it would be fruitful for the team to listen to offers. While the offense has been able to capitalize on his partnership with Chubb at times, his recent injury history also has to be something the team has to think about.