The mystery of Duke Johnson’s and David Njoku’s playing time

When a team has lost 25 of its last 26 games and is currently 0-10 in 2017, one would think the head coach and offensive coordinator would give the best playmakers the most playing time; especially if those players are young and need to gain valuable experience on the field. Whatever the reason, Cleveland Browns head coacha Hue Jackson does not follow that philosophy. Let’s take a look at the amount of snaps running back Duke Johnson and rookie tight end David Njoku have received compared to the rest of their position groups.

By far the best playmaker on the team, Johnson hasn’t gotten the amount of snaps that he deserves. Jackson is inconsistent in terms of the amount of playing time the do-it-all running back receives week in and week out. Let’s take a look at how he compares to starting running back Isaiah Crowell. Look at the inconsistency there. During the first 10 games of the season, there have been two games where Johnson received at least 48 snaps and two games where he received less than 27.

The biggest question comes in the latest game, when the Browns lost to the Jaguars at home. With quarterback DeShone Kizer struggling and the offense stagnant for much of the game, Johnson might have been able to make a difference. Instead, even though the offense needed a spark, the 24-year-old had just six touches, his fewest since Week 1, when he only had two receptions.1

WFNY’s own Jake Burns took a look at all six touches and broke down the video clips of each on Monday. Here is a snippet he had to say about the quantity Johnson is receiving.

WFNY’s Jacob Rosen noted today that Johnson has averaged 10.2 touches per game this year. His career high is 17 total touches in a game. This arbitrary limit illustrates the major problem at hand. While Duke is perhaps not a feature back who can carry an entire offensive rushing workload, it is a shame to only put the ball in your best playmaker’s hands only 10.2 times per game. Johnson should easily be in the 20 touches per game area, and if the Browns want to find any consistent success, they can’t keep ignoring him.

Not getting Johnson the ball can be blamed on the quarterback at times, if the do-it-all back goes out on a route; not giving the top playmaker on the team enough playing time can be blamed squarely on the coach. Jackson may be fighting to keep his job, but he makes curious decisions with the amount of snaps some players receive. Maybe, just maybe, putting him on the field more often will lead to more touches? It doesn’t take Harvard grad to figure that one out. There’s a reason why the do-it-all back leads the team in both receptions and receiving yards as a backup running back. WFNY’s Joe Gilbert made it known that Duke needs to get the ball more often the first few weeks of the season. He not only needs the ball more, but he needs more time on the field, too.

If, for some reason, the head coach feels the need to keep Crowell on the field, why not move Johnson around. To Jackson’s credit, he has lined Johnson up at five different positions on the field. Defensive confusion and different options for Kizer could be the result of doing this more often. Good teams find ways to use their best playmakers all over the field.

The same can be said for Njoku. The rookie has plenty of raw talent, but the only way he will continue to improve is through experience. The more experience Njoku receives, the quicker he can become a legitimate playmaker and target for Kizer. Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer are also young, but in terms of raw talent, Njoku seems to have the most upside. With Kizer struggling as much as he did on Sunday and at times throughout the season, the Miami product could be a great safety valve for the rookie quarterback. Instead, Jackson continues to not give his rookie tight end enough playing time and expects him to improve his game by standing on the sidelines.

There has been weeks where Njoku receives quite a bit of time compared to the other two tight ends (like in Week 10), but his snaps are so inconsistent, much like Johnson’s. Also, he has the versatility to line up in many areas across the field, just like he has already proven. Again, the issue is allowing him to expand upon this experience more often in games.

Giving your top playmakers the most playing time seems obvious. Jackson has nothing to lose. Both Johnson and Njoku have flaws, but the only way they’re going to get better is by getting more playing time. If he wants to win at least one game before the season—and possibly his career in Cleveland—comes to an end, it would be in his best interest to not only give Johnson and Njoku more playing time, but to make sure they get the ball too. Jackson’s supposed to make it easier for his rookie quarterback. Instead, with many of his decisions both in terms of personnel on the field and his play-calling, the head coach has made it tough.

The first step in trying to Make The Browns Great Again is by giving your best playmakers more playing time, Jackson. Let’s do this!

  1. Week 1 was also when he didn’t line up in the backfield a single time and instead spent all 45 snaps he played as a slot receiver. []