The Browns have taken the title as the NFL’s most exciting team heading into the 2019 NFL season. With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, and Kareem Hunt, the Browns look poised for their first playoff appearance since 2002, when they lost to the rival Steelers in the Wild Card Round.
In addition to the exciting storylines, there was one with some drama. After Carlos Hyde was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars just before the start of Week 7 in the 2018 NFL season, second-round draft pick Nicholas Chubb was named the starter. This did not sit too well with one former member of the Browns’ running back committee: Duke Johnson Jr., the Browns’ 2015 third-round pick, who was largely expected to step into a starting role at some point in his young career.
During a media session in early June, Johnson noted that he requested a trade when he discovered the Browns put him on the trade block. Johnson was slated to be the back-up to Chubb to start the season but also slated to find a new role as third-string running back once Hunt returns from his eight-game suspension. Some members of the Browns, most notably Baker Mayfield, did not see eye-to-eye with Johnson’s decision. “It’s not awkward, it’s self-inflicted. I hope he does his job. We gotta have guys that are goal-oriented, who have a single focus and mindset.” Here, Mayfield was likely referring to the fact that the Browns have major anticipations for their 2019 season, and if there are guys who are not all-in, it is difficult for those who are.
Johnson finally got his trade request granted, as he was traded to the Houston Texans for a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick. Johnson will provide the Texans with a valuable role as a pass-catching back, and he is slated to be one-two with Lamar Miller on the depth chart. For the Browns, they can fully focus on their upcoming season.
With the exception of wide receiver Antonio Callaway being suspended for the first four games of the 2019 NFL season, the Browns have all distractions out of the way, giving them the ability to fully focus on the upcoming 2019 NFL season. With the Johnson trade, it means that Chubb will be relied on heavily during the first eight weeks to produce in the ground game for the Browns. It also means that Dontrell Hilliard, an undrafted free agent out of Tulane who the Browns signed after the 2018 NFL Draft, is going to be behind Chubb on depth chart. Hilliard will provide the Browns with a valuable pass-catching back who will mostly be used on third downs.
Chubb will take a majority of the handoffs, and Hilliard will take a few when Chubb is on the sidelines. Once Hunt returns from suspension, and if Hilliard can play like the back he was at Tulane, the Browns will have a dangerous three-running back committee that teams will dread facing on a weekly basis. While Hunt is out, Hilliard will attract opposing defenses, freeing up more room for Beckham and Landry to wreak havoc in the secondary.
Once the regular season starts, I can only imagine what the Browns are going to do. They look great on paper, but if they can turn that talent into wins, they will be a force to be reckoned with.