As an NFL Draft prospect, Duke Johnson quickly learned back in 2015 that his role as a running back would involve more than just racking up yards on the ground.
"When I came out for the Combine, pretty much every team I talked to talked about that role of catching the ball, being the receiver out of the backfield," Johnson said. "So ever since Day 1 in Cleveland, that was my role and that's what I did, so I just tried to excel as much as I could at that."
But for the first time in his five-year career, Johnson's receiving yards didn't eclipse his rushing yards. In 2019, he accumulated an equal number of both, 410 rushing and 410 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns (two rushing, three receiving) in his first season as a Texans. When Houston traded for the Miami running back on August 8, they hoped his versatility could open up the offense for himself or other playmakers.
"Duke has fit in well," O'Brien said. "Duke is a very smart player, he's a very team-oriented guy, he understands his role, he's really good in protection, he's good at route running, he's been good in the running game for the times that we've asked him to do that. He's given us a little spark there in a lot of games."
Johnson, who hasn't missed a game in his NFL career, finished third last season among all running backs (with at least 100 carries) in yards after contact per attempt. Johnson averaged 3.64 yards, behind only Derrick Henry (4.18) and Cleveland's Nick Chubb (3.77). Ironically, Johnson, Chubb and Carlos Hyde were all together in the Browns' backfield in 2018 before Hyde was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"At the end of the day, it works out for all of us," Johnson said. "Nick Chubb is the guy in Cleveland. He's, to me, one of the best running backs in the league and me and Carlos (Hyde) are again together and trying to make it work for the team, whatever the team needs, it's our job to do."