The Cleveland Browns are considered to have one of the best running back groups in the NFL. Anchored by Nick Chubb with compliments from Kareem Hunt and depth from D’Ernest Johnson, the Browns’ running game is a nightmare for opposing defenses. And it just got stronger.
We shouldn’t overreact during the preseason, but it’s hard to ignore stellar performances and that’s exactly what rookie running back Jerome Ford provided for Cleveland. After struggling through the first quarter as an offense, Ford and company entered in the second quarter and lit up the scoreboard for the Browns.
Ford, a fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati, found the end zone both on the ground and through the air for the Orange and Brown in the team’s preseason opener on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A run of 41-yards added to the highlight reel for the former Bearcat’s first NFL appearance.
Cleveland Browns rookie Jerome Ford shows out in preseason debut
If this game would have happened a week ago it would have just served as another sign of depth in a strong running room for the Cleveland Browns. However, now it takes a different meaning. Just recently, Kareem Hunt was rumored to want out of Cleveland and the performance by Ford could raise some eyebrows on the issue.
A season ago we saw what D’Ernest Johnson could do if given an opportunity. Filling in for not only Hunt, but Chubb as well, Johnson made two starts for the Browns, totaling 245 rushing yards over those two outings before going off for 123 yards in the final game of the season. A restricted free agent, Johnson returned to Cleveland on a one-year deal.
With both Hunt and Johnson on one-year deals, the depth of Cleveland’s backfield of the future had some reasonable concern. The Browns have heavy investments elsewhere on the roster, so spending on Hunt and/or Johnson this offseason was a concern. Then Ford arrived.
Now, this is still preseason and it’s only one game. Conclusions can’t be jumped to just yet, but it was intriguing to see Ford. Sure, he had a fumble during the fourth quarter, but he also put together a really strong showing, totaling over 100 all-purpose yards with two touchdowns. And that’s without appearing in the first quarter.
This isn’t exactly a surprise from Ford either. At Cincinnati in 2021, he ran for over 1,300 yards and added 19 rushing touchdowns to his stat line. After starting his collegiate career at Alabama, Ford transferred to Cincinnati ahead of the 2020 season and immediately scored eight rushing touchdowns in his first season.
Normally, a game of this magnitude in the preseason wouldn’t mean much. However, it could give Cleveland some flexibility with their running back room. As mentioned earlier, Hunt recently demanded a trade. It seems like that request was retracted since he’s practicing, but the concern is still there. Cleveland could let Hunt walk at the end of the season or move him now for some sort of return.
Given Cleveland’s position, this season, shooting for a Super Bowl, moving a former Pro Bowl running back who is crucial to the game plan wouldn’t make sense. However, if the Browns continue to see this level of play from Ford that verdict could change.
Ford looked the part of an NFL-level running back, showcasing speed and the ability to make plays in both the running and passing games. He displayed the ability to break outside in the middle of a play to turn a loss into a gain and found the end zone multiple times. If you combine that level of talent with D’Ernest Johnson as the depth in Cleveland and Hunt seems a bit more expendable.
It’s worth noting that it wasn’t just Ford either. John Kelly showed some life as well. Now in his fourth NFL season, and second in Cleveland, Kelly had a few strong runs that could serve as a serviceable last resort on the roster, like we saw last year when Chubb and Hunt were both out.
Cleveland spent a lot to get Deshaun Watson as their quarterback. The team was depleted of draft capital and moving Hunt could recoup some of those assets. There needs to be more evidence of ability and confidence in Ford and Johnson before a move of that nature can happen, but the first preseason game moved the needle closer to the possibility. If the right trade offer comes across the phones, the Cleveland Browns might be a bit more inclined to listen.