BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns created a very crowded backfield when they signed free-agent running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year deal on February 11, and that reportedly did not sit well with versatile ball-carrier Duke Johnson Jr.
In his pre-NFL Draft media availability at team headquarters Thursday, Browns general manager John Dorsey talked at length about Johnson Jr. and the type of role he will have in the new-look backfield.
“I continually keep telling you all that Duke’s a very talented football player,” Dorsey said. “We see a lot of stuff for Duke moving forward in the future with regards to him. He’s a member of this organization moving forward.”
Despite reports of teams calling the Browns with trade offers, Johnson Jr., who signed a multi-year extension last offseason, remains with the team, even though he has not reported for the “voluntary” offseason workouts.
“I always expect him here,” Dorsey said. “It’s voluntary, so you can’t [force him]. That’s part of the CBA.”
After leading the Browns with 74 catches during the 2017 season, Johnson Jr. caught just 47 passes and got 40 carries. Despite the lightened workload, Johnson Jr. averaged a career-high 5.0 yards per carry and matched a single-season personal best with three touchdown receptions.
Selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft after a record-setting career with the University of Miami Hurricanes, Johnson Jr. has rushed for 1,286 yards and five touchdowns with 71 first downs and five 20-yard bursts on 299 carries over 64 games in four years with the Browns.
Johnson Jr. has turned 235 catches into 2,170 yards, eight touchdowns, 29 20-yard plays, two 40-yard efforts and 103 first downs.
“When you sit down with Freddie (Kitchens) and the coaching staff, they see him as a vital part of this offense moving forward,” Dorsey said. “He’s a good playmaker.
“He understands the role that he’s going to play within this offense, and that’s what’s important because Duke, everybody knows, is a very talented playmaker, and I look forward to seeing him on the field on Sundays.”
Asked if the Browns need to mend fences with Johnson Jr., Dorsey is more concerned about getting the best out of the offense during the offseason workouts and throughout the practices in training camp this summer.
“There’s 53 guys on this football team,” Dorsey said. “It’s about winning, and that’s the sole objective of this moving forward is winning football. Is he a talented football player? Yeah, he’s really good, and he’s going to help this offense move forward.”