The Cleveland Browns have a problem at running back, and the team could turn to a familiar face to help fill the talent gap.
Jason Lloyd of The Athletic pitched a reunion with D’Ernest Johnson, who spent his first four seasons with the Browns. Johnson departed this offseason for the Jacksonville Jaguars but has seen very limited action.
“If not Taylor, then who? They could’ve kept D’Ernest Johnson for $1 million this season but let him walk,” Lloyd wrote. “He has carried six times for the Jacksonville Jaguars in four games. Maybe a reunion is possible?”
The Browns have been unable to get anything going on the ground since the season-ending injury to Nick Chubb back on September 18. Jerome Ford is the lead back with Chubb now lost for the year, but it’s become very clear he’s not ready for the role.
In two starts, Ford has recorded 44 rushing yards and averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. For the season, he’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry — a number that was helped out by a 69-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers after Chubb went down.
The run game was notably absent in the Browns’ October 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, failing to give rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson — who started in place of an injured Deshaun Watson — any relief. The Browns need to remedy the situation but may not want to swing for the fences with a trade for someone like Jonathan Taylor, who is searching for a new contract.
D’Ernest Johnson Excelled When Handed Opportunity With Browns
Johnson isn’t the biggest name out there and can’t compare with the potential hype a trade for Taylor would bring. However, Johnson has proved he can run behind the Browns’ stellar offensive line in the past and would come at a fraction of the cost.
Johnson’s most notable action with Cleveland came in 2021, filling in when both Chubb and Hunt were down with injuries. He carried the ball 100 times that season for 534 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson was unable to re-create the success last year with the Browns, but that was mostly due to a lack of opportunity in a crowded backfield. Cleveland ran with Chubb and Hunt as the top two running backs, with Ford getting in the mix occasionally. Johnson finished the year with just four carries for 17 yards.
Browns Admit Run Game Is Lacking After Loss to Ravens
After the 28-3 loss to the Ravens, Browns head coach and offensive play caller Kevin Stefanski made no argument for the fact that the run game has not produced since Chubb went down.
“Well, we haven’t run it well the last couple, so we’ll look at all those things,” Stefanski told reporters. “I think that’s what you have to do with the bye.”
Ford admitted that being unable to get the run game on track has been a challenge.
“I think not being able to get the run game going is frustrating for any team, anybody,” Ford said. “I think [the bye week] is pretty big. We get some time to focus on ourselves and focus on the stuff that we missed in those two losses and find a way to get better this week and get ready for another game.”
When the Browns emerge from the bye, they’ll be preparing to face the 4-0 San Francisco 49ers, who boast an impressive defensive unit. Perhaps by then there will be another name in the mix in the backfield.