The Browns typically have one of the strongest running back depth charts in the NFL. That will not be the case on Thursday night.
Cleveland will not have its two best running backs in its game against the Broncos. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are out of action as a result of calf injuries. Chubb will miss his second game in a row, while Hunt will miss the first of a minimum of three after landing on IR.
The Chubb-Hunt tandem is arguably the best in the NFL, so the Browns will be understaffed without them. Quarterback Baker Mayfield will also be out on Thursday, so the team will need his running depth to step up and help replace Chubb and Hunt to the best of his ability.
Cleveland’s remaining running backs are unproven, but they have many advantages. Here’s a look at the Browns’ RB depth chart and how they might plan to use each of the players they have available for “Thursday Night Football.”
NFL WEEK 7 SELECTIONS: Against the Spread | Straight up
Browns RB depth chart
1. D’Ernest Johnson
Johnson is a third-year running back who played college football in South Florida. He began his professional career at the now-defunct AAF. He played with Orlando Apolos, the best team in the league, in 2019 and racked up 592 yards of scrimmage in eight games.
After the AAF withdrew, Johnson signed with the Browns and has remained with Cleveland for his entire three-year NFL career to date. He’s played offense sparingly, but had 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 recorded 40 career carries for 198 yards, an average yards per carry of about 5.0.
Johnson is Cleveland’s most tested running back between tackles, so he thinks he’ll get the most carries Thursday night. In other words, he will take on the role of Chubb’s backfield.
That said, Johnson has never played more than 25 offensive plays in an NFL-level game, so the Browns will likely look to form some kind of backfield rotation to keep him fresh.
2. Demetric Felton
It seems likely that Felton will take on the role of Hunt. He’ll catch passes out of the backfield and handle a few carries, too, though not as many as Hunt this season.
Felton is a sixth-round rookie who played for Chip Kelly at UCLA. He played both receiver and running back for the Bruins, recording more receiving yards than rushing as a junior and more rushing yards than receiving as a senior. At 5-9, 189 pounds, he’s not a great runner, but he’s very good in space with the ball in his hands.
So far during his rookie season, Felton has recorded eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. You have not yet registered 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 he’ll be on the field a lot 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 the Cleveland practice team and spent the entire 2020 NFL season in that unit.
Kelly was a sixth-round pick for the Tennessee Rams in the 2018 NFL Draft. He played sparingly in eight career games with the Rams and recorded 30 carries for 83 yards, an average yards per carry of just 2.8. He imagines spelling Johnson between tackles, but he probably won’t get more than a few taps.
4. Johnny Stanton
Stanton is technically a fullback, but he could see at least some action outside the backfield. He played two offensive plays against the Cardinals with Hunt hit and caught a six-yard pass from Baker Mayfield.
It seems more likely that Stanton will continue to contribute heavily on special teams, but keep in mind that the former undrafted free agent from UNLV in 2018 could have a touch on offense at some point.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.