When Trey Lance fractured his ankle and ligament injury late in the season, it severely impacted the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive rushing prospects. Heading into his sixth season as San Francisco head coach, Kyle Shanahan finally wanted to embrace the quarterback-based rush game he was coordinating in Washington, with Lance’s legs opening the door to reading options and drafting runs. Unfortunately, after watching Elijah Mitchell suffer an MCL strain on an inside run in Week 1, Lance succumbed to a similar fate in Week 2, fracturing his ankle and ending his season on the spot.
While Jeff Wilson Jr. kept the running game alive in Week 2, rushing for 84 yards on 18 carries, the Niners may need to look outside to find additional backfield help if they want to stay strong offensively.
Fortunately, Max Dible, who writes about the Cleveland Browns for Heavy, has identified an ideal trading partner for the Browns who can further boost their rushing game now that Jimmy Garoppolo is back in the middle: D’Ernest Johnson.
After rushing for 534 yards and three touchdowns with 100 carries in 2021, Johnson found himself in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season in favor of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, rookie fifth-round pick Jerome Ford and UCLA product Demetric Felton, who was inactive, also earned snaps for the Browns on special teams. This surprising spot on the inactive list, which stretched through week 2, led some, like Dible, to believe a trade might be in order.
“The most logical option for the Browns is to sell Johnson to a team that needs a running back with starter-level upside,” Dible wrote in his column. “As fate would have it, the San Francisco 49ers became such a team during their loss to the Chicago Bears on September 11.”
Later in his article, Dible reinforced his point by sharing the intriguing tidbit that Johnson could very well be had for the right price. According to Brad Stainbrook of the Orange and Brown Report, the Browns consider Johnson mobile because of her depth in position.
“To my knowledge, there was no trade deal for Johnson that rendered him inactive. However…the team is open to trading him,” Stainbrook wrote. “Browns saw Chubb, Hunt and Ford ahead of Johnson this week.”
If John Lynch wants to make a trade for another reinforcement at the running back position, Johnson is certainly an option.
When Johnson left college at USF in 2019, he wasn’t expected to make a big difference. He wasn’t particularly fast, ran a 4.8 40 out of college, wasn’t particularly tall, and looked like a longshot to get drafted, let alone impress with the pros. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein specifically classified Johnson as an undrafted player and wasn’t overly confident in his staying power.
“Johnson just doesn’t have the size, athleticism, speed or power that stands out,” Zierlein wrote in his draft report. “He’s a tough runner who’s willing to accelerate contact to improve reach for his team, but unless there are clear entry points for him, he may not be able to build his own fortune against NFL competition. His experience with special teams could increase his chances once he comes to camp but creating a roster will be a challenge.”
Luckily, Johnson has proven he belongs at the NFL level, but his style of play between tackles really provides enough contract for Wilson and Tyrion Davis-Price, who was picked in the 2022 third round, who was also injured in Week 2, to be worth it be suffering a day 3 draft pick for his services? That, folks, is the $1.216 million question, which coincidentally is the same amount of money Johnson credits for the 2022 cap, according to Spotrac.