Videos by OutKick
Team’s leading rusher goes down to injury.
No, scratch that.
Entire league’s second-leading rusher and team’s leading rusher goes down to injury. And then the backup comes in and becomes a star.
Nope, not right, either.
League’s second-leading rusher and team’s leading rusher goes down to injury. And the backup also goes down to the same injury.
And then the stage is properly set for the backup’s backup to improbably come out of the shadows and shine.
That’s what happened with the Cleveland Browns Thursday night as they defeated the Denver Broncos 17-14 and introduced us to their third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson.
You’ll be hearing about Johnson a lot in the next few days. And you’ll be seeing him until Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt heal from their calf injuries. But don’t worry about the Browns’ running game.
Johnson did very well, thank you, running the football in his first career start.
Knowing they’d be out, Chubb and Hunt both spoke with Johnson in the days leading to this game to offer advice.
“They just basically told me, just be me, man. Don’t change nothing, just be you. Continue doing you. That’s what got me here and don’t change nothing, you know?”
Chubb has averaged 5.8 yards per carry this season running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Hunt has averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
Johnson averaged 6.6 yards on his 22 carries. He accounted for three of Cleveland’s four most explosive gains of the night on two runs of 20 yards each and an 18-yard reception from quarterback Case Keenum.
And when the game was at stake with 5:12 to play and the Browns clinging to their slim lead, Johnson carried the ball on seven of his team’s final eight plays before a victory formation kneel down.
“Amazing, amazing,” receiver Jarvis Landry said of Johnson.
“It’s unexplainable,” Johnson said of his final 8-yard carry that sealed it. “I wanted to celebrate, but I didn’t know what to do, man. I just yelled because it’s been a long journey, man. Then to get your first start and get 100 yards and get a touchdown, man, that ain’t nothing but God man. I just yelled and screamed and celebrated with the team.”
Johnson’s journey is nothing short of inspirational.
He played at Central Florida but flubbed his Pro Day workout in that he ran a 4.8 in his 40-yard dash time. That’s defensive lineman speed, which is, well, terrible for a 205-pound running back.
So Johnson wasn’t drafted. And he didn’t stick with a team as a free agent in 2018. So he played in the now defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF).
“I think he’s played in just about every football league there is,” linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said as he sat next to Johnson in a post-game press conference. “But, man, he’s seizing his opportunity. And you can’t be more happy for a guy who puts the work in every day, doesn’t complain, does whatever the team asks, and then gets the opportunity and goes out there and seizes the moment.”
When the Browns showed interest in Johnson in 2019, he was working on a fishing boat, catching Mahi Mahi to make ends meet.
This is like Forrest Gump type stuff, folks, except for the difference in speed and that woman Jenny isn’t making anyone upset.
“Coming from the fishing boat and always dreamed of playing in the NFL,” Johnson said, “but just playing in the AAF, at the same time I always dreamed of getting here and just being able to just be on this team is a blessing.
“Like I say, it’s a dream come true and be able to play and start and help the team win. That’s the best feeling. You got to trust the process, no matter what you’re doing, you know. You got to believe in yourself and trust what God is doing for you.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero