The Browns normally have one of the strongest running back depth charts in the NFL. That won’t be the case on Thursday night.
Cleveland will be without its two top running backs for their game against the Broncos. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both out of action as a result of calf injuries. Chubb will miss his second consecutive game while Hunt will miss his first of a minimum three after landing on IR.
The Chubb-Hunt tandem is arguably the best in the NFL, so the Browns will be shorthanded without them. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is also out on Thursday, so the team will need its running back depth to step up and help replace Chubb and Hunt to the best of its ability.
Cleveland’s remaining runners are unproven, but they do have plenty of upside. Here’s a look at the Browns’ RB depth chart and how they might plan on using each of the players they have available for “Thursday Night Football.”
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Browns RB depth chart
1. D’Ernest Johnson
Johnson is a third-year running back who played college football at South Florida. He began his professional career in the now-defunct AAF. He played with the Orlando Apollos, the league’s best team, in 2019 and racked up 592 scrimmage yards in eight games.
After the AAF folded, Johnson signed with the Browns and has remained in Cleveland for his entire three-year NFL career to date. He has played sparingly on offense, but he did have some solid games for the team in 2020. His best outing was a 13-carry, 95-yard game against the Cowboys during which he split carries with Hunt. He has logged 40 career rushes for 198 yards, a yards per carry average of roughly 5.0.
Johnson is Cleveland’s most proven between-the-tackles runner, so he figures to get a lion’s share of the carries on Thursday night. In other words, he’ll take over Chubb’s backfield role.
That said, Johnson has never played more than 25 offensive snaps in a game at the NFL level, so the Browns will probably look to form some sort of backfield rotation in order to keep him fresh.
2. Demetric Felton
Felton seems likely to take over Hunt’s role. He’ll catch passes out of the backfield and will also handle some carries, albeit not as many as Hunt has this season.
Felton is a sixth-round rookie who played for Chip Kelly at UCLA. He played both receiver and running back with the Bruins, logging more receiving yards than rushing yards as a junior and more rushing yards than receiving yards as a senior. At 5-9, 189 pounds, he’s not a big back, but he’s very good in space with the ball in his hands.
So far during his rookie season, Felton has recorded eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. He hasn’t yet recorded a carry. He will be the wild card in this backfield rotation, but pending the status of Odell Beckham Jr., who is questionable for this game, he could also see some work as a receiver. Either way, he figures to be on the field plenty in Week 7.
3. John Kelly
The Browns sign Kelly to the 53-man roster after placing Hunt on IR. Kelly had previously been on Cleveland’s practice squad and spent the entire 2020 NFL season on that unit.
Kelly was a sixth-round pick by the Rams out of Tennessee in the 2018 NFL Draft. He played sparingly in eight career games with the Rams and posted 30 carries for 83 yards, a yards per carry average of just 2.8. He figures to spell Johnson between the tackles but probably won’t get more than a few touches.
4. Johnny Stanton
Stanton is technically a fullback, but he could see at least some action out of the backfield. He played two offensive snaps against the Cardinals with Hunt banged up and caught a six-yard pass from Baker Mayfield.
It seems more likely that Stanton will continue to contribute largely on special teams, but just be aware that the former undrafted free agent from UNLV in 2018 could get a touch on offense at some point.