The Crowded Browns’ Running Back Room

June 12, 2022

With all the news surrounding the Cleveland Browns this past week, it is nice to talk about some actual football. The best topic of conversation regarding football in June has to be roster construction. NFL teams have just finished the draft and free-agent period, and rosters are flush with players hoping to make the team. Unfortunately, only 53 of them will be on the active roster come Week One.

The running back room is one position group that seems over-encumbered with talent. Who will make the roster, and how many we the Browns carry into Week One. Let’s take a look and figure it out.

Salary/contract numbers and figures for this article were sourced from Statistics and figures were pulled from the database.

Past Stefanski Running Back Rooms

We are three years into the Stefanski regime in Cleveland, and we can see trends in the number of players he prefers to carry at various positions. In 2020, Stefanski’s first season with the team, the Browns brought three running backs and a fullback on the roster for Week One. In 2021, we again saw three running backs and a fullback on the team in Week One. The interesting case with the 2021 season was Demetric Felton, who played both running back and wide receiver but is currently listed as a wide receiver according to his contract. If things stay consistent, we will see three running backs and a full back on the 2022 Week One roster.

Nick Chubb

This one is simple; Nick Chubb will be with the Cleveland Browns for the 2022 season and beyond. The 26-year-old former Georgia Bulldog signed a three-year extension last July that will keep him a Brown through the conclusion of the 2024 season. Chubb is one of the top pure runners in the league who has been top five in yards after contact since his rookie year in 2018.

Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt is where the conversation starts to get interesting. Hunt will be 27 by the time the 2022 season kicks off, and the Browns can save $6.25 million in cap space if he were to be traded or cut. After the 2022 season, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Hunt was brought in by the Dorsey front office and had no ties to Andrew Berry and company. However, as of this writing, the Browns have about $40 million in cap space. That, plus how terrible this offense looked in Kareem’s absence last season, leads me to believe he will be playing out the final year of his contract as a Brown.

D’Ernest Johnson

D’Ernest Johnson went undrafted in 2019 before signing a contract with the Cleveland Browns that summer. Since then, he has been one of the league’s more effective depth piece running backs. Despite a limited workload, he was top-25 in the league last season in yards after contact per rush attempt. 

Due to injuries, he started two games in 2021. In Week Seven against Denver, he put up 146 yards on 22 attempts. In Week Ten against New England, he ran for 99 yards on 19 attempts. Time and time again, he has proven himself worthy of a starting job. 

This spring, he signed a one-year, $2.44 million tender to stay in Cleveland. If he were to be cut or traded before Week One, the team would save that amount against the cap. This may be the best bet this summer based on Stefanski’s history with the running back room. 

Jerome Ford

The addition of Jerome Ford in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft is why we are having this conversation in the first place. Is he here to replace Kareem Hunt or D’Ernest Johnson. After watching film of his senior season at the University of Cincinnati, it is clear that he isn’t as good of a pass catcher as Hunt is. Time will tell, but it will be hard for him to be a more efficient backup than D’Ernest has been. Based on Stefanski’s history, he is forcing one of those two running backs off the roster. 

John Kelly

John Kelly was a sixth-round draft selection by the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. He saw limited work his rookie season and has since bounced around between the Rams’ and Browns’ practice squads. I only include his name here because this season’s contract is currently on the books. He will likely remain on the practice squad this season unless he can show out in preseason. In that case, he may be able to find work as a depth piece elsewhere in the league. I don’t see room for him with so many viable running backs on this Browns roster. 

Where We Go From Here

For 2022, I imagine that one of Kareem Hunt or D’Ernest Johnson will not be with the Browns. Considering that Hunt is in a contract year, could Andrew Berry try to get some draft capital in return? If he walks, the only recourse would be possible compensatory picks in next year’s draft. I guess that Johnson will be released, whether in a cut or a trade. Preseason could be very important for him. Not that he has to show much more on the field, but any injury around the league may generate interest in D’Ernest in exchange for a mid to late-round pick. Considering what we gave up for in the Watson trade, any draft capital coming back to Cleveland would be welcome. 

What are your thoughts on the Cleveland Browns running back room? Leave a comment down below and let us know who you want to see in 2022.

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