Just a week ago, the Eagles acquired Jordan Howard from the Bears to beef up their running back room. While Howard presumes to take the “lead” role in the Birds committee, there’s still room for improvement in the backfield.
With league sources reporting yesterday that Duke Johnson and his reps have requested a trade from Cleveland, speculation about the front office making a move for the receiving back has picked back up, with the Birds being named as one of three teams likely interested in his services.
The Howard trade didn’t necessarily preclude the team from adding another back, and Johnson has been linked to Philly for a while now.
There are a few reasons that this would make sense. Chief among them is that it gives the offense a true receiving back in the event that Sproles either decides to retire, or isn’t able to stay healthy again. Over his four year career, Johnson has caught a total of 235 balls for 2,170 yards. Over that period, Johnson leads all backs with receptions of 15+ yards, ranks second in yards per route run among qualifying backs, and third in percentage of touches resulting in a first down (stats courtesy of PFF).
He’s an excellent route runner who makes plays with the ball in his hands. On top of that, he’s an above average pass blocker. Not many backs fit the mold of a receiving back as well as Johnson.
What makes him so effective in this role is that he isn’t a dead giveaway that a pass is coming—at least no more so than a passing down is already a giveaway. Over his career he averages a shade under five carries per game for an average of 4.3 yards per (4.7 if you remove his rookie season). Obviously it’s a little easier for him to run the ball in passing situations, but no matter how you cut it Johnson is as effective on the ground as you could want in a receiving back.
I think what the front office might value the most in Johnson is his health—he hasn’t missed a game in his career. For an Eagles team that’s dealt with the injury bug for the past two seasons, this is something that ought to be prioritized as much as possible.
With Johnson and the Browns clearly wanting to part ways, Howie can have his man for relatively cheap. A mid-to-late round pick (5th or later) or one of our young backup cornerbacks would likely get the job done; Rasul Douglas probably makes the most sense. If they decided to trade Mills he might yield a late round pick in return considering he has a little more experience as a starter, but the fact that he only has one year left on his rookie deal hurts his value in that regard.
Another byproduct of this potential move is that it would free up the Birds to use one of their higher picks on a position other than running back—a position that many fans and pundits believe is still in the team’s draft plans even after the Howard trade.
Obviously the team could add another back in the draft even after adding Johnson, but I don’t think anyone would argue that a three-headed committee of Jordan Howard, Duke Johnson, and Corey Clement is as complete of a running back room as the team has had in a long time.