The Philadelphia Eagles continued adding new talent to a running back corps that needed some upgrades by claiming Kerryon Johnson off of waivers. The former Detroit Lion was a 2nd round selection (43rd overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He came on very strong his rookie season as he ran for 641 yards on 118 carries in his first 10 games. However, his year was cut short due to a sprained left knee that cost him the final 6 games.
Since then, Johnson has struggled to gain any of the same momentum and success he previously had. He was only able to gain 403 rushing yards on 113 carries in the first 6 games of the 2019 season before suffering yet another knee injury that kept him out the following 8 games. Due to Johnson’s lack of durability, the Lions drafted D’Andre Swift in the 2020 NFL Draft to be their new lead RB. The writing was all but on the wall for Johnson at that point, and a year later he was officially waived.
Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure, though. At least, that’s what the Eagles are hoping. While it would be unreasonable to expect Johnson to regain his 2018 form and take over the lead role from Miles Sanders, there’s a reason why there was a level of excitement over the acquisition.
As I mentioned in my previous article about Kenneth Gainwell, the Eagles needed capable talent behind Sanders. Although Sanders’ injuries haven’t been nearly as severe or costly as Johnson’s have been, they’ve still kept him out of a handful of games within his first two seasons in the league. Whether Sanders will ever be able to shake off the injury bug remains to be seen, but the Eagles couldn’t afford to go into another season without upgrading the depth behind him. The first part of addressing that problem was the drafting of Gainwell. The next part was bringing in Johnson.
I know many Eagles fans still prefer to cling to Jordan Howard. The reasons why still baffle me. The truth is that the chances of Howard making the team were already slim before. Now, with Johnson in the mix, those chances just took an even bigger nosedive.
Johnson and Howard do a lot of the same things. They’re both bigger backs that run with good forward momentum and finish runs well. On the downside, neither of them are particularly explosive or dynamic movers. An argument can be made that Johnson was before his knee injuries, but I personally never saw him as having great burst or acceleration. Furthermore, neither of them are currently the runners that they once were.
Right now, Johnson is the superior player to Howard. Even with his diminished athleticism, Johnson’s still not a washed-up runner by any means. He still has good agility and footwork for someone of his size, capable of dropping his weight and making some really sharp cuts. He still finishes runs well and can be relied on to run between the tackles.
Below is my video breakdown of Johnson’s most notable runs in 2019.
The other selling point that Johnson has over Howard is his ability on passing downs as both a blocker and receiver. Sanders and Scott have shown to be dangerous weapons as receivers, but pass protection is a different story. Scott has struggled in blitz pickup. Sanders, although has shown vast improvement since college and is far from a weakness, has been inconsistent. Johnson and Howard, on the other hand, are stellar pass protectors and can be relied on more consistently to not miss their assignments. If anything, they can help mentor and teach Sanders in this area.
Eagles wisely claim only 23 year-old RB Kerryon Johnson off waivers.
He is the 2nd highest graded pass blocking RB since 2018, loves contact, and is the perfect complement to Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell.
— Thomas R. Petersen 🦅 (@thomasrp93) May 7, 2021
Taking it a step further, Johnson is a good receiver out of the backfield, which is something Howard is not. That added versatility gives Johnson yet another leg up on Howard in competing for a roster spot.
Having a running back corps of Miles Sanders as the lead guy, Gainwell as the moveable receiving threat, and Johnson as the backup short-yardage grinder and pass protector looks like a much-improved unit on paper compared to last year. And for a coach like Nick Sirianni who loves to exploit mismatches, having three guys who are all versatile in different ways is exciting and gives him a plethora of possibilities in how to deploy/use them.