With NFL training camp just days away, plenty of questions have surrounded the Cleveland Browns already. Who’s going to be the starting quarterback? Is the offensive line really that good? What type of defense is Gregg Williams going to run? While all the questions cannot be answered, along with many more, there seems to be one answer that the Browns do seem to have: Duke Johnson is the leading candidate to replace Andrew Hawkins, who was released by the Browns this offseason and then signed with the New England Patriots. According to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, although Johnson is currently listed as a running back, that will likely change soon.
This isn’t a mistake. Johnson belongs in the wide receiver preview, because he’s more of a pass-catcher than a runner. He is the leading candidate to replace Andrew Hawkins as the No. 1 slot receiver.
One of the best playmakers on the team, having Johnson on the field as much as possible will pay dividends for the Browns, in a good way. With the quarterback situation that has been cycling through options since 1999, Cleveland needs as many playmakers on the outside as possible. With wide receivers Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt to go along with Isaiah Crowell to team up with Johnson, that’s quite the start. Each of the three can make plays for themselves along with using either their speed or technique to get open. And, don’t forget rookie tight end David Njoku or Seth DeValve.
During his first two years in the league NFL, Johnson had more receiving yards out of the backfield than he did rushing yards. Considered a running back, he totaled 61 catches (74 targets) for 534 yards and two touchdowns compared to 104 carries for 379 yards during his rookie year. In 2016, he had 53 receptions (74 targets) for 514 yards compared to 73 carries for 358 yards and one touchdown.
Part of the reason for Johnson’s potential switch to slot receiver full-time could be due to rookie running back Matt Dayes’ performance in rookie mini-camp. The seventh-round pick is expected to be one of the biggest surprises in training camp and going forward. With Crowell and Dayes, the running back group seems to be a bit full, so why not move Johnson to slot receiver and allow him to see the field much more.
On a young Browns team and an offense that will most likely be led by either second-year quarterback Cody Kessler or rookie DeShone Kizer, having as many playmakers as possible surrounding the signal-caller will be much-needed. Moving Johnson to the slot allows the Browns to do just that.