Could changes be coming to the Cleveland Browns running back room?
The Browns are currently blessed with running back talent. Their top two running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, are arguably the best backfield duo in the NFL. Both backs have punishing running styles and big play ability. Some would say both are “special.”
Having two talents like Chubb and Hunt doesn’t always make it easy. Properly utilizing both backs has been a challenge for the Browns offensive signal callers. Nick Chubb is one of the best pure runners in professional football. Kareem Hunt has big play ability and versatility. If the Browns could manage to get the formula right, the result would be a thing of beauty.
Current Cleveland Browns running backs:
The Browns have a “RB1-A” and “RB1-B.” Nick Chubb is “RB1-A.” In the summer of 2021 the Cleveland Browns extended Nick Chubb through the 2024 season. Many running backs don’t get a second contract from the team that drafted them due to their short “shelf life” in the NFL. Often times, when teams do hand out second contracts to running backs, they regret it. The Browns, however, recognized how special Chubb is and locked him up.
One NFL executive went as far as to say Nick Chubb is “The best pure runner in football,” and added “I’d take him over Henry because he’s a little more explosive.”
Kareem Hunt is the Browns “RB1-B” as mentioned above. Hunt is more reliable catching passes out of the backfield than Nick Chubb which adds versatility to the offense when he is on the field. Both Hunt and Chubb have violent running styles and they aren’t afraid to make contact with a defender. This results in the increased risk of injuries for both backs.
Hunt finished the 2021 season having appeared in 8 games for the Browns. The offense appeared to be much less effective and the Browns finished 4-5 in games that Hunt did not play in. Hunt is heading into the final year of his current contract and previously won a rushing title with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Browns 3rd string running back D’Ernest Johnson came up big when called upon in 2021. After playing in 4% of offensive snaps in 2019 and 8% of snaps in 2020, Johnson was on the field for 30% of offensive snaps in 2021. As his snapped counts increased on offense, they decreased on special teams.
In his first NFL start, Johnson filled in for an injury riddled Browns team en route to a 146 yard rushing performance that led to him being named FedEx Ground Player of the Week. He finished the 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos in week 7 with 22 rushes, 146 yards and a touchdown. He averaged a whopping 6.64 yards per attempt and added 2 receptions for 22 yards that week.
Johnson signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent out of South Florida in 2019. In March of 2022, Johnson was tendered by the Browns and will earn $2.443 million on a one year deal if he signs it.
Demetric Felton Jr.
Demetric Felton Jr. was drafted in the 6th round by the Cleveland Browns in 2021. Though listed as a running back by the Browns, Felton is considered a hybrid type of player. Many websites list him as a wide receiver. He contributed heavily on special teams for the Browns in his rookie season.
With the Browns adding return specialist Jakeem Grant, Felton should be able to contribute more as a running back and wide receiver on offense. That being said, Felton was named to the Pro Football Writers of America NFL All-Rookie Team as a rookie punt returner.
John Kelly Jr.
John Kelly Jr., like Demetric Felton, was a 6th round draft pick except he was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. The Browns added Kelly to their practice squad early in the 2020 season. After being waived and re-signed he ultimately made it to the active roster the following year only to be waived and added back on to the practice squad once again. He appeared in 2 regular season games in 2021 for the Browns totaling 2 carries for 13 yards and a touchdown.
Kelly signed a reserves/futures contract with the Browns in January of 2022. He was a force in the pre-season and showed some flashes of a running style Cleveland has come to know and love. It’s suspected that Andrew Berry views Kelly favorably and he could be a solid depth player moving forward.
Tre Harbison was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cleveland Browns in May of 2021. Just a few months later, Harbison was waived/injured and place on injured reserve. Harbison played in college at Northern Illinois and Charlotte.
Which Browns running backs could be on the move?
The Cleveland Browns will likely change up the backfield in one way or another this offseason. Running backs don’t carry the value that they used to.
Are any of the Browns running backs “untouchable?”
Nick Chubb is likely the only “untouchable” member of the backfield and Demetric Felton is unlikely to be moved in his sophomore season considering his versatility.
Could Kareem Hunt be on the move?
Yes. Kareem Hunt could be on the move. He’s on the last year of his deal and as of now there has been no sign of an extension on the horizon. This could be the last chance to acquire something in exchange for him if we risk losing him to free agency next year.
However, in my opinion, I think this would be a mistake. If there’s a possibility that we can’t retain him following the upcoming season, I’m using him. I’m using him heavily. My vote is to take some of the wear and tear off of Nick Chubb and use Hunt as much as possible.
For the right compensation, it would be great to know that we have a two-headed monster until Nick Chubbs contract expires and both players are on the horizon of 30 years old.
What about D’Ernest Johnson?
On April 12th, 2022 D’Ernest Johnson hired agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. D’Ernest Johnson has less than a month (as of this post) to find a team willing to negotiate a deal that the Browns will not choose to match. If he leaves, no compensation is given to the Browns.
Drew Rosenhaus is notorious for attempting to get players moved and it could signal a wish for a more favorable position on a depth chart for D’Ernest Johnson. He may be the best third string running back in the NFL and if there is interest in Johnson from other NFL teams, Rosenhaus will sniff it out. If there isn’t, he’ll certainly generate some.
The agent to try and get Njoku traded in July of 2020? Yup. Drew Rosenhaus.
The Cleveland Browns are likely not making any moves when it comes to Nick Chubb or Demetric Felton. It would fall in the “slim to none” chance category. Chubb being a cornerstone piece of the franchise even at a position that doesn’t carry the value it once did and Felton being a utility guy in 3 phases of the game.
Kareem Hunt is unlikely to be moved but it’s within the realm of possibility if the right offer is made. Everyone has a price. I believe that even though Hunt is a premier talent at the position he’s not “untouchable” by any means.
The most likely roster shuffling will come with the roster spots occupied by Johnson, Kelly, and Harbison. Kelly and Harbison are practice squad candidates and are absolutely not guaranteed to make this team. I believe that both General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski would love to keep D’Ernest on the roster. That being said, Rosenhaus will surely be making calls to other teams.