Where Will the Miami Hurricanes Legend land?
By: Cody Molla
Do you know who the Miami Hurricanes all-time rushing leader is? The U has produced greats at the running back spot over its large history. True fans know the answer to this question and I’m sure it would come as a surprise to others that Duke Johnson holds this record with 3,519 rush yards while at Miami.
Running back Duke Johnson is a free agent following his release late last week from the Houston Texans. A former third-round pick in 2015 by the Cleveland Browns, has been a productive complementary back in his six years as a pro thus far.
However, Johnsons’ release comes off his worst season as a pro by the numbers. Only available for 11 games in 2020 as he dealt with neck and ankle injuries, Johnson totaled 235 rushing yards and a score and caught 28 passes for 249 yards and a score as well.
Duke Johnson’s NFL future is likely to take the same role he has filled as a complementary back, who has shown the ability to catch passes at an elite rate for a running back and bring efficiency to his touches. Since starting seven games as a rookie in 2015 he has only starter ten games since. The Texans traded a conditional third-round pick for Johnson.
In his first season with the Texans, he averaged 6.5 yards per touch and scored five touchdowns on 127 touches. Johnson will look to bring that same efficiency to a new team in 2021.
The Texans traded a conditional third round pick for Johnson. In his first season with the Texans, he averaged 6.5 yards per touch and scored five touchdowns on 127 touches. Johnson will look to bring that same efficiency to a new team in 2021.
The former Miami Hurricane has shown the ability to be productive. There are plenty of teams that need a running back and Johnson can fill that role as a cheap option. His versatility will be intriguing as he is able to run, catch, and play special teams. The NFL salary cap floor has been recently set by the NFL.
Duke Johnson can be had at a cheaper price than some of the big-name running backs in the free agency class. A bonus for teams is Johnson would not count towards the compensatory pick formula either. Here are some teams that should sign the veteran running back to boost their offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The recent super bowl champs have been very quiet since winning the big game. However, they have monster decisions to make on some key players that will determine the cap space moving forward. Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski are all key pieces from the super bowl run that need a new contract.
Leonard Fournette turned into the go to back in the playoffs. His departure would leave the running back room pretty empty. Besides Fournette, three other backs are set to be free agents including veteran LeSean McCoy. The team currently has Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and CJ Prosise as the only backs under contract.
The Bucs will certainly add a running back to the roster via the draft or free agency. With RoJo’s struggles catching the ball and Vaughn still learning, the best pass-catcher on the team is Prosise for the moment. The addition of Duke Johnson would provide a reliable third-down back and one Brady can trust to make the catch and get yards after catch to extend drives.
With lots of money likely needed to retain the big names on defense, a cheap price for Johnson fits the Bucs needs an allowance at this time. A veteran pass-catching back, who can run the ball as well is needed, Johnson fits this role very well for the reigning champs. Signing with Tampa Bay would return Johnson to his home state as well as allow him to compete for a super bowl. This would also allow Tampa to spend elsewhere and retain the best possible roster to defend its title.
The Bills took a huge jump in 2020 as a team and are looking to get better. The offense was able to put points up and move down the field fueled by the Allen to Diggs connection. However, one place the offense can improve is at the running back position.
Johnson would bring the ability of an efficient and established pass-catcher to the young running back room and be the old veteran in the room as well. Singletary is entering his third year and Moss entering his second. The addition of Johnson could stabilize the position and bring a three-headed attack to a growing offense.
Sharing a backfield wouldn’t be anything new for Johnson in his pro career. Even while getting under 50% of the snaps he has proven to be efficient and effective. The Bills can certainly use his pass catching skills if they continue to be a heavy pass team offensively.
Johnson can play in the slot and lineup with other backs and be schemed open to play make. Johnson’s hands are reliable, he’s caught 77% of his passes for nearly 3000 yards in his career. In 2017, he caught a career-high 74 passes, 32 for first down. The ability to extend drives can boost any offense and the Bills will need those extra possessions to become champs in the AFC and bring home a super bowl win.
The worst rushing team in 2020 is set to let their lead running back in James Connor’s walk. The need for a running back is evident and prominent. In 2020 across the NFL, the average yards per game was 118.9, and per carry, it was 4.4, and total touchdowns were 16.6.
The black and yellow averaged a league-low 84.4 yards per game on the ground last season with 3.6 yards per carry and only 12 rush touchdowns. Despite an 11-0 start the season quickly turned into a disappointing effort.
The lack of rush ability offensively via offensive line injuries and running back inefficiency severely hindered the Steelers offensive promise. The inability to run forced an aging Ben to throw upwards of 50 times a game and forced the offense in tough down and distance situations down the stretch.
With Connor set to leave the other two running backs that the Steelers tried to get going were Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. Snell had a few efficient games including 115 yards in the season opener and a good outing in Week 15 with 84 yards and a score. McFarland a rookie in 2020 showed some burst but never got anything going and will continue developing as w head into 2021.
Adding Johnson to this group will provide a veteran back who can work in a committee, pass catch, and provide efficiency. All three are needed for this offense and one that will likely change again depending on the ability of an aging Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
New York Giants
The New York Giants do not need to acquire a feature back as Saquon Barkley is slated to return in 2021. They do however need depth. With Wayne Gallman likely to leave as a free agent and moving on from Dion Lewis the backup role is open.
Barkley is without doubt the best back and option for the Giants moving forward. However, the recent injury bug may bring a concern to Saquons ability to get maximum touches every game. Pairing Barkley with Johnson would provide a dynamic duo in the backfield for big blue.
The versatility of both backs would allow for an open playbook on every snap. Johnson could spell Barkley when needed as well as play on third down.
If the Giants only choose to use Johnson’s pass-catching ability it would be an upgrade over Dion Lewis who played that role last season.
Johnson can be signed for a cheap price and would be an excellent complement and spell for Saquon. I really like the fit for Johnson with the Giants.
New England Patriots
Following a disappointing 2020 season in which the Patriots missed the playoffs, the six-time champs look to get back in 2021. The Patriots will likely be spenders this offseason, with over $60 million in cap space, the Patriots have the third most spending money across the league.
Duke Johnson fits the Patriots versatile running back need. With James White and Rex Burkhead being free agents there are no true pass catching backs left on the roster. Damien Harris and Sony Michel have a lock on the early down roles but the pass catching role is wide open right now.
The Patriots offense has relied heavily on pass-catching from the backfield historically. Since he entered the league in 2015, Duke Johnson ranks fourth in total receptions over the last six seasons while playing for the Cleveland Browns and Texans. The three other backs ahead include superstars, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, while the leader in that span is James White. With White set to be a free agent that role has lots of touches available.
Burkhead, the other pass catching back for the Patriots is also a free agent coming off a major knee injury and will likely be out to start the 2021 season. Harris and Michel have a total of 31 career catches combined in 40 total games. They are unlikely to develop into the third down backs this offense needs.
Acquiring Johnson at a cheap price, allows the Patriots to fill the need on offense and allow them to spend for other players and positions they need to return to playoff contenders.
Miami Dolphins The Dolphins could use an efficient pass catcher out of the backfield. While they are linked to bigger names, Johnson would be a hometown kid who could fill a role and need for a discounted price.
Green Bay Packers Depending on what happens with Aaron Jones, a pairing with AJ Dillion would be a good complement.
Duke Johnson is a running back who will have a role for a team in 2021. His pass-catching ability is too valuable in today’s game and some teams will be thankful for the services Johnson brings in the future. Johnson is a solid complementary back moving forward.