With the conclusion of the NFL season following the Super Bowl on Sunday, the four NFL Nation reporters from the AFC North — Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley, and Pat McManamon — named Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson the AFC North Rookie of the Year on Wednesday. Considered a running back, Johnson’s playmaking ability allowed him to play as a slot receiver as well during his rookie campaign. Selected with the 77th overall pick in the third round of the 2015 draft, the versatile running back was expected to compete for the starting job, but that all changed once he went down with a hamstring injury and concussion during the preseason, giving way to Isaiah Crowell.
During his rookie season, the University of Miami graduate finished with 379 rushing yards on 104 carries and 534 reception yards and two touchdowns, catching 61 passes as well. Johnson led the league with 26 missed tackles to go along with dropping just three passes. His 61 receptions were tied for the second-most for a Browns rookie ever (trailing only Kevin Johnson, who had 66 in 1999). Among other rookies, Johnson finished second in receptions, fifth in total yards from scrimmage, and sixth in receiving yards.
McManamon offered his insight on Johnson’s rookie season and what he can improve heading into his sophomore year.
As the year went on, he shared the carries with Isaiah Crowell, but was the team’s best receiver out of the backfield. Former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo used Johnson wisely, as he probably was not big enough to endure the physical toll of playing on every down. Johnson needs to work on his blocking, but he has good hands, showed nifty agility and has speed to run away from people.
Interestingly, the Browns had to first-round picks (Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving) in addition to a high second-rounder (Nate Orchard), but it was Johnson who made the most noise. Pittsburgh Steelers first round pick (22nd overall) Bud Dupree was the runner-up, finishing behind Johnson. The linebacker had 26 total tackles and four sacks while playing in all 16 games (five starts) for the Browns’ biggest rival. There may have been a lot of questions concerning the Browns in 2015, but at least Johnson was a player that Cleveland could count on.