Hue Jackson’s January arrival as Cleveland’s next head coach immediately triggered optimism in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. Burdened with turning the lowly something-less Browns into the first bit of something they’ve had since 1999, Jackson has taken the I-see-potential approach and draped his players in jerseys of praise and excitement.
Especially when it comes to the Dukes of Hazard (spelled ‘Hazard’ for risk, chance, you get it), Duke Johnson.
During his Rookie year, the Miami Hurricanes star wasn’t a bell-cow runner, per se, but he did secure a very solid 61 receptions – making him just the ninth player and eighth back in league history to record 60-plus catches as a rookie. Film watchers will blame it on garbage time, but Duke Johnson’s pure athletic prowess can’t be ignored. Sure, 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds doesn’t scream intimidation, but height and girth (or lack thereof) never slowed Frank Gore, Darren Sproles, or Barry Sanders. The feisty and multi-tapped threat can double as a hot receiver out of the backfield for confidence-damaged Robert Griffin III and really be a wild card for this underrated offense.
Good vision as a pass catcher, superb lateral movement, and the ability to thrive with three different Cleveland quarterbacks during his rookie season are all positives marked on his scouting report. Heck, even weather doesn’t slow this guy down, as Johnson dominated a snowy December against the postseason-bound Pittsburgh Steelers..
He’s naturally been compared to Giovani Bernard and Brian Westbrook by Browns General Manager Ray Farmer. Throw LeSean McCoy in there and we’ve got a trifecta of versatility.
The Bernard comparison is most significant, considering Hue Jackson unleashed the versatile Bengal in a committee with power runner Jeremy Hill during his time in Cincinnatti – fantasy footballers know what I’m talking about.
However, while we’ve heavily spotlighted the Duke’s undeniable ability as a receiving threat, he’s arguably underrated as a runner. Duke was Miami’s career leader in rushing yards in college, finishing with 1,652 yards as a senior and 26 rushing touchdowns over three seasons.
Despite only 104 runs as a rookie, Johnson severely impressed in a grueling late-season loss to Seattle, which ended in a breathtaking stiff-arm on Pro-Bowl safety Earl Thomas..
And remember, most of his rookie year was buried in Johnny Manziel’s flat-passing inefficiency of 2015, meaning any downfield throws are sure to open up the box for Johnson and co.
Now that he’s reportedly set to return kicks, the sky is the limit for the Duke.