News & Analysis

Houston Texans acquire Duke Johnson Jr. from the Cleveland Browns

May 23, 2018; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr., (29) catches a pass during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns have traded running back Duke Johnson Jr. to the Houston Texans for a conditional fourth-round 2020 pick that potentially can become a third, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

This move has been a long time coming for the Browns & Co. Johnson departs a Cleveland backfield comprised of Nick Chubb — who earned a position-high 87.4 overall grade in 2018 — and suspended Kareem Hunt. PFF data suggests that Johnson Jr. now finds himself in a much more favorable situation entering 2019.

When analyzing the Texans’ backfield, there is much to be desired regarding experience after Lamar Miller. Since he joined the team in 2016, 61.5% (738/1200) of Houston’s rushing attempts have been reserved for Miller — the next closest player is Alfred Blue (27.2%), who now resides in Jacksonville.

The two players formerly competing for a backup role behind Miller are Buddy Howell and Josh Ferguson, who combine for 16 career NFL carries. Also sitting behind Miller in the Houston backfield is 2019 undrafted free agent Karan Higdon, who earned a 76.3 grade in his final year at Michigan and ranked 11th at his position on PFF’s 2019 Big Board entering the draft.

The lion’s share of the opportunity for Johnson will reside in the passing game. Over the past three seasons, 55.6% (119/214) of Houston's running back targets have been sent Miller's way, and he has earned a sub-62.0 receiving grade in two of the past three seasons.

Johnson’s career receiving grade (90.9) ranks fifth among the 44 running backs with at least 100 targets dating back to 2015. He also ranks second in forced missed tackles per reception (0.338), seventh in yards per route run (1.73) and fourth in percentage of receptions resulting in a first down or touchdown (44.0%) among players on the list.

The three-highest ranked running backs in PFF’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) metric from a year ago — Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Cohen and James White — all had 70 or more receptions in 2018. Johnson isn’t on the level of said backs as of now, but has the ability to get there should he be correctly utilized in Bill O’Brien and Tim Kelly’s offensive scheme.

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