D’Ernest Johnson is coming off a breakout year but finds himself buried on the Cleveland Browns depth chart entering training camp.
But despite facing an uphill battle to get carries behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Johnson is entering the season ready to prove the doubters wrong, which he voiced 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.
When the Browns opened camp last year, Johnson was considered to be on the roster bubble. However, he made an impression and capitalized on his opportunities when his number was called after injuries hit the Browns. 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 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.
Speculation Has Swirled Around Johnson Being Traded
With the Browns having three running backs capable of strong production, teams will likely inquire about a possible trade prior to the start of the season. Johnson could be a low-cost, high-ceiling acquisition for a running back-needy team.
While Johnson never voiced his displeasure, Johnson had refused to sign his unrestricted free agent tender with the Browns. 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. If a team is interested in Johnson, those numbers should not be a deterrent in picking up a back who has shown solid upside.
“[I] don’t think Hunt will be dealt. I just think he’s too talented and the return in a trade wouldn’t match his importance to the offense. The Browns may not be willing to give him the extension he wants, but he’s still incredibly valuable to them in 2022,” Petrak wrote on July 18. “I think a much more likely scenario is D’Ernest Johnson is traded before the season. … Johnson is more expendable than Hunt. Johnson is also set to be a free agent after the season and isn’t as good as Hunt.”
Hunt Has Expressed Desire to Stay With Browns
There has also been some scuttlebutt about the Browns potential moving on from Hunt via trade. Unlike Johnson, who has a small sample size of production, Hunt is more of a proven commodity as a starter and could fetch a large haul in return. He led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2017 with the Chiefs and has more than 5,150 yards from scrimmage and 44 touchdowns to his name over a five-year NFL career.
The problem for Hunt in Cleveland is that he’ll never be the lead back unless Chubb — who has proven himself as one of the top backs in the league — is out. Despite that, he’s expressed a desire to stay with the Browns. Hunt is entering the final year of his contract and an extension does not appear imminent.
“I really don’t know what to think right now,” Hunt said on June 17. “I’m just trying to go out there and show them I’m healthy, show them I’m ready to ball out for them as long as they want me to, so I’d love to here for a long time.”
Browns general manager Andrew Berry has always functioned under the premise that there’s no such thing as having too much talent at a position. The Browns certainly have a spoil of riches in their backfield but we’ll see if they ultimately decide to turn it into some assets.