Featuring his first game in the Cleveland Browns offense without being hamstrung by the bickering duo of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, Duke Johnson flourished in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Duke Johnson joined the Cleveland Browns as a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft with all the promise in the world, but the Browns never quite made him a featured part of their offense. At Miami, Johnson showed three-down potential as a future star, and as he started playing more for the Browns, the team realized that his work in the passing game would become his biggest asset in an offense that sorely lacked pass-catching options.
In 2018, the Browns wide receiver corps has been stripped to its bare bones with Josh Gordon traded and Rashard Higgins coming back from a knee injury. That made it more frustrating to watch the Browns fail to feed targets to Johnson, whose talent as both a runner and receiver have been evident.
With Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens in charge of the team and offense, respectively, Johnson finally found his place in the Browns offense in a Week 9 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson dazzled spectators with his work in the passing game, leading the Browns with eight receptions on eight targets, turning those targets into 79 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a breakout performance for Johnson, who outplayed No. 1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry and promising second-year tight end David Njoku. Johnson, who looks like more a receiver than a running back in the Browns offense, also added an eight-yard run for good measure.
After Hue Jackson and Todd Haley bungled Johnson’s and Nick Chubb’s usage before John Dorsey somewhat forced their hands by trading away Carlos Hyde, Cleveland may have finally found the right way to use both of these extremely gifted offensive players. Chubb, who fell into the Browns laps in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, is shining as the team’s lead back, and Johnson may have just established himself as the No. 1 target in the passing game.
Going forward, Johnson looks like the x-factor in the Browns offense, and Browns fans likely have more hope about this offense’s prospects with Kitchens leading the way and Johnson finally getting targets. Two touchdowns is quite the haul for a player who came into Week 9 with exactly zero touchdowns on the season, and Johnson has earned more high-leverage targets after putting together a flawless performance in Cleveland’s passing attack.
If Higgins can return to his pre-injury form and put his route-running chops to good use, then Baker Mayfield could have quite the group of weapons around him in Johnson, Higgins, and Landry, who has sorely needed others to emerge.
There isn’t a clear top target in Cleveland, but there are a few player who can eat up quality targets and spread out defenses. If Antonio Callaway (or even Breshad Perriman) can become more consistent, then Mayfield could have a deep threat to go with the aforementioned trio of pass-catchers.
The Duke Johnson revival in Cleveland is real, and it is spectacular.