Running Back. Wide Receiver. Blocker. Cleveland Browns Duke Johnson will wear as many hats this season for the offense as Jabrill Peppers will for the defense. And the team will need him to do just that. With an unit that will feature a young quarterback under center and one who is looking for playmakers to emerge, Duke Johnson should be one of the bigger keys to the success of the offense. Though that will entail him getting more snaps and playing time outside of running back.
Johnson came out of Miami (FL) as a prolific runner with the ability to hurt teams through the run and pass game. In his three seasons as a Hurricane, he rushed a total of 526 times for 3,519 yards and 26 touchdowns, while also catching a total of 69 passes for 719 yards for four touchdowns. He was a big play producer who used his elusiveness and quick ability to makes plays as a runner and receiver.
As a player, Johnson is a smaller back with the make-you-miss ability to turn nothing in something. His ability to quickly change directions and burst in the other direction makes him very hard to tackle. In the passing game, he has good hands and really impressive route running skills for a running back. He is able to catch passes both coming out of the backfield and out wide as a receiver. One of his most overlooked aspects is his blocking in which is overall better and tougher than his size would indicate he would be.
Johnson has already been a player who has produced in many different facets of the game. In his first two seasons in the league, he has rushed a total of 177 times for 737 yards and a touchdown, while catching a total of 114 passes for 1,048 yards and two touchdowns. He has already shown his versatility to play in a variety of roles. This versatility has pushed him into the rare air. In his first two seasons in the league, Johnson is the only running back to produce more than 500 receiving yards in both of the last two seasons. But, he can be an even more dangerous player for the Browns.
So, how can Duke Johnson become more dangerous and be the key to the success of the offense? Well it all starts at slot receiver. With the emergence of Isaiah Crowell last season, Johnson might lose some touches at the running back position. So, the Browns decided to try and play the running back at slot receiver. And I think that is a great thing for Johnson and the Browns. The former Hurricane is player who needs as many touches as possible. With Crowell as the main back for the Browns, Johnson will use his versatility to garner more touches.
With a player like Johnson, who can create plays in space and make defenders miss with elusiveness, giving him the ball in space at wide receiver should be a recipe for success. As the slot, he will sometimes just have one or two defenders to beat, instead of at running back where he has to hope for good blocking to ever receive that opportunity. With one quick eluding move, he could have just open field ahead of him, creating big plays for the offense.
As a slot wide receiver, how does Johnson fit in that spot? As a running back, he already had a more advanced route running skill set than most backs. He has the short area quickness that allows him to move in and how of breaks and change directions quickly, allowing him to gain separation from the defender covering him. His hands are another plus for him. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he has only six drops in his 138 targets in his first two seasons of his career. So, he possesses everything you want in a slot, quickness, good route running, reliable hands and elusiveness after the catch.
Johnson will still get a lot of snaps at running back, especially on third downs. But, the move to slot receiver allows him to gain more time on the field and gives the Browns more ways to get the ball in the hands of one of the offense’s more dangerous playmakers. It all about opportunities and the more opportunities that Johnson gets, the more chances he has to make big plays. It also allows the Browns to use both Crowell and Johnson on the field at the same time. Those two are two of the most talented offensive players the Browns have, so giving them the ability to share the field is a good thing for Cleveland. Johnson at slot could also possibly give rookie running back Matt Dayes some playing time after he has shown quite a bit of impressive play this preseason. So whether he is at running back or receiver, Johnson getting more touches and playing time will only help the Browns offense which will be led by a rookie quarterback.