The Browns are banged-up all over the place heading into their “Thursday Night Football” game against the Broncos, but they’re especially thin at the running back position.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both out with calf injuries. They are the team’s top two backs, so their absences will shuffle the Cleveland RB depth chart quite a bit.
Who is the Browns’ new starter? That would be D’Ernest Johnson. The 25-year-old’s name may be familiar to fantasy football aficionados, but most casual fans aren’t familiar with him.
Johnson doesn’t care much about his anonymity. He’s just looking forward to an extended opportunity to prove himself.
“First time getting a chance to start, it’s always a dream come true,” Johnson said ahead of Cleveland’s battle with the Broncos.
Here’s everything you need to know about D’Ernest Johnson ahead of his moment in the spotlight on Thursday night.
Who is D’Ernest Johnson?
Johnson is a third-year running back who has been with Cleveland since signing with the team during the 2019 offseason. He went undrafted out of South Florida in 2018 and failed to make the Saints’ 90-man roster after being invited to rookie minicamp.
As such, Johnson had to wait until 2019 to get his professional start, which came in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. He played for the Orlando Apollos and tallied 592 scrimmage yards in eight games. Orlando was considered the AAF’s best team before the league folded, and Johnson was one of the Apollos’ most consistent players.
Johnson managed to make the Browns’ 53-man roster after performing well in training camp and the preseason. He served as a depth option at running back and a backup return man. He saw the field sparingly in 2019 but caught six passes for 71 yards.
In 2020, Johnson had more of an impact for the Browns. Chubb missed four games with an MCL injury and that allowed Johnson to step into a bigger role to take some pressure off Hunt. Johnson racked up 95 rushing yards on 13 carries against the Cowboys during what has been his best career game to date. He finished the 2020 NFL season with 166 yards on 33 carries, good for a yards per carry average of about 5.0.
Johnson stands 5-10 and tips the scales at 208 pounds. He’s the biggest of the three running backs on Cleveland’s depth chart and he also has the most experience in the team’s system. He figures to get a lion’s share of the Browns’ rushing opportunities on Thursday night against the Broncos.