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Broncos free agent target: D’Ernest Johnson

With uncertainty floating in the air at the running back position, should the Broncos consider this Cleveland Brown for a job?

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

With Javonte Williams injured and Latavius Murray getting up there in years, it’s not a bad idea for the Denver Broncos to consider running back options for the 2023 season.

Of course, the hope is that Javonte Williams will be up and running (no pun intended) soon. He’s going to be our best bet at RB. I also like Latavius Murray a lot, and he showed a lot of promise in 2022.

Welcome to the Free Agency Profiles series. I’m here to give you a quick glance at RB D’Ernest Johnson of the Cleveland Browns.


Johnson, a Florida native, went undrafted in 2018 before signing with the Alliance of American Football’s Orlando Apollos. He has been grinding away on the Cleveland Brown’s 53-man roster since 2019.

In his first year, the running back wound up playing in 16 games (though starting none), recording six receptions for 71 receiving yards and 21 rushing yards.

The 2020 season was more lucrative in the rushing department. Johnson managed 166 rushing yards (including seven first downs) from 44 attempts, and three receptions with 14 receiving yards.

He would follow this up in 2021 with 17 games played (2 started), 534 rushing yards and 24 first downs from 100 rush attempts, three TDs, and 19 receptions for 137 receiving yards.

Johnson’s stats dropped again in 2022, with him not starting any of the 15 games that he played. He recorded only 17 rushing yards and one first down from four rush attempts, no TDs, and three receptions for seven receiving yards.

The RB is currently listed at #4 of the Browns’ depth chart for the running back position.

Is Johnson a good fit for the Broncos?

I am a fan of Johnson’s story, particularly his rise to the NFL and the persistence he showed along the way. This is a player who went undrafted and proceeded to nag Tim Ruskell, who was in charge of the Alliance of American Football League’s Orlando Apollos, for a running back post.

When I say “nag,” I mean he called every single day. ESPN has a great piece about his story.

Anyway, the fact that he’s all the way up here now makes me super happy for him. I think (and I hope) he has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL.

All of that said, whether he’d be a good fit depends on what the Broncos need right now. This goes without saying, but Sean Payton is going to have a different vision for this roster than what I have.

In my eyes, Javonte Williams is a solid talent, but he was injured early on last season and missed so many games, so I’d probably want to sign on someone who can mentor him. I don’t really think that Johnson would be the guy to do this, given that he has limited starting experience himself.

On the other hand, Johnson could serve a different purpose besides mentoring our starter. He would be a solid option at backup, given that he’s been pulled into a large number of games that he didn’t start, and he produced when the moment arose.

Johnson is clearly a valuable player who takes the game seriously and is waiting earnestly for his number to be called.

Just like with most things, I don’t know the definitively best thing to do in this situation. The Browns have a pretty crowded room of backs, which is probably why he’s so far down the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t secure a higher roster spot here in Denver. It could be the career move he needs, as well as the right fit to our puzzle.


Should the Broncos target D’Ernest Johnson in free agency?

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