The list of things that are a shame when it comes to the Browns is nearly endless. The missed opportunities for wins, the draft pick busts, the mere fact that we stink, pick your poison. However, one of the biggest shames in my mind is the egregious mismanagement of Duke Johnson and his load of talent.
Duke Johnson is currently chugging along in his fourth season in the NFL, all as a member of the Browns. Outside of our lord and savior, Joe Thomas, Duke has been my favorite player on the team each of the last four years. We drafted him in the third round back in 2015, yet he plays like a first-round talent. As far as stats go, he was the first running back to rack up 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons since Herschel Walker in the 80s. Duke recorded at least 50 catches in each of his first three seasons as well, the only running back to do so in that same time span. If you want to throw stats out the window and use the eye test instead, his talent is arguably better.
For starters, Johnson poses a constant mismatch with linebackers due to his speed. I also cannot say that I have ever seen him drop a ball that he should have caught more than one or two times. To go along with that, he almost never fumbles the ball, only coughing it up seven times in his first three seasons. Some running backs fumble the ball that many times in one season. The last point I’ll make about him is an intangible: effort. I have NEVER seen Duke Johnson take a play off. He fights as hard as he can for every single yard on every single play. I mean the guy looks like he wants to make a house call every time he touches the football. So I ask the question: who wouldn’t get this man involved in as many plays as possible?
If you answered Hue Jackson and the Browns, you absolutely could not be more right.
We saw Isaiah Crowell, who was essentially a bum, taking advantage of a decent offensive line, consistently start and get more touches than Duke Johnson. To this day, that whole situation remains one of the biggest mysteries and most dumbfounding coaching decisions to me. Hue Jackson seemingly refused to utilize Duke Johnson effectively, or even at all for that matter. Finally, someone came to their senses and got rid of Crowell in addition to signing Duke Johnson to a nice three-year contract extension. Then, of course, we trade for a veteran back and draft one as well. Now, I am NOT complaining about Carlos Hyde or Nick Chubb, both of whom have proven to be extremely valuable additions. But did we really need all three when we already had Duke?
Honestly, forget the running back situation, what about the wide receiver problem that has consumed us for the past two or three weeks? Why are we signing subpar free agents and giving rookies run free when we can throw Duke in the slot on at least 50% of our plays? Duke isn’t going to let a wide-open touchdown pass go right through his hands unlike two of our rookies did this past Sunday. The fact that we have neglected to get Duke as involved in the offense as possible for three and a half years straight, despite his success, has been one of the biggest long-term coaching blunders I have ever seen in professional football. It is also probably the thing that makes me the maddest about this team.
I started Duke Johnson as my flex in fantasy this week due to injuries and the Browns’ lack of help at the wide receiver position. He put up roughly 15 points in PPR format, a good number for a backup flex who doesn’t even start on the field. That is exactly the type of effort and performance you can expect and more – if we simply involved him at a much higher frequency. Hue has been slowly but surely losing me over the years, and this is truly a massive reason why.
Give. Duke. The ball.