It took until week 14 of this past season for any of the Chargers’ backup running backs to make an impact on the field. That’s far too long for a team with championship-level expectations for the foreseeable future.
On top of the team’s biggest needs, such as right tackle and defensive tackle, the backup running back spot behind Austin Ekeler is certainly up there. As sturdy as Ekeler seems at times, a workhorse, 20-touchdown season isn’t going to be a a yearly occurrence in the modern day NFL. With players getting stronger and faster seemingly every year, Ek needs someone who can step in and keep the offense chugging along without much of a drop-off in efficiency.
So the Chargers obviously have two choices: take a running back somewhere on day three or sign someone in free agency with some upside.
Enter impending free agent D’Ernest Johnson.
In Bleacher Report’s latest article on free agent fits for the top ball carriers hitting the market, NFL writer Kristopher Knox has the Browns running back being a seamless fit for the Chargers as a power-back option to their RB1.
“D’Ernest Johnson is set to be a restricted free agent in March, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t draw significant interest,” says Knox. “Though stuck behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the Cleveland Browns offense, Johnson has shown tremendous promise in limited opportunities.
“The 25-year-old first flashed with a 95-yard outing against the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 during which he averaged 7.3 yards per carry. He got his first career start this past season and racked up 146 rushing yards, 22 receiving yards and a touchdown against Denver. Johnson started a second game in 2021 and rushed for 99 yards with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average and 58 receiving yards against the New England Patriots.”
“At worst, Johnson projects as a high-end No. 2 back, and that could be perfect for the Chargers. Los Angles has a splendid starter in Austin Ekeler but has struggled to find a consistent power-rushing complement.”
While the 2021 stats look good for Johnson, actually watching the film tells you a bit more as to how he found success in his limited opportunities. For starters, Johnson showed tremendous vision when it came to finding the cutback lane. While he’s not the fastest back by any means, his ability to stick a foot in the ground, get north and south, and squeeze through creases was big time for the Browns when they were trying to get by without either Chubb or Hunt.
When watching any of Johnson’s film, it’s painfully obvious how much more impactful he was compared to what the Chargers had to work with at times with Josh Kelley and Larry Rountree. While those two are still young, neither have shown much in the way of flashing that suggest they’re another year or so away from a breakout. Johnson could come at a great price and provide exactly what the Chargers need immediately.
D'Ernest Johnson MOVING the chains for Cleveland— PFF (@PFF) October 11, 2020
Let me know what you all think of a potential addition of Johnson to the Chargers and why or why not you’d support such a move!