Pittsburgh Steelers Signing Duke Johnson Would Make Sense

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On Friday the Houston Texans released running back Duke Johnson in a move to save some room against the salary cap. The Texans will reportedly save $5.025 million on this year’s cap with the move. Houston acquired Johnson from the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2019 season for a third-round pick under then head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien. The move was made after Lamar Miller suffered an injury, even though the Texans then also acquired Carlos Hyde who became the starter. Johnson’s role in the NFL has largely been that of a backup, including his time in Cleveland. That continued in Houston. In 2019 he backed up Hyde and last season he was behind David Johnson, who was acquired in the awful DeAndre Hopkins trade, on the depth chart. Here is why the Pittsburgh Steelers signing Duke Johnson would make sense.

Pittsburgh Steelers Signing Duke Johnson Would Be a Smart Move

Johnson’s Numbers and Production

Johnson played in 11 games in 2020 and had 77 carries for 235 yards and a touchdown and a career-low 28 receptions for 249 yards and a receiving touchdown. However, Johnson did miss five games due to ankle and neck injuries. But Johnson had never missed time prior to that. From 2015-2019 he appeared in all 16 games each season and put up a minimum of 400 receiving yards in each of his first five NFL seasons. Since Johnson entered the league in 2015, after being drafted by Cleveland, he ranks fourth in receptions for all running backs.

In his first six seasons in the NFL, Johnson has 459 carries for 1,931 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 307 catches for 2,829 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 17 starts (91 games). He has averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 9.2 yards per reception for his NFL career.

If used correctly, he could still be really effective per touch and valuable to the correct team. The Steelers need an effective playmaker in the backfield and Johnson could be just that.

Steelers Rushing Issues

Last season the Steelers run game was abysmal and at times almost non-existent. They averaged only 84.4 rush yards per game, good for last in the NFL. Yes, the offensive line was part of the reason Pittsburgh struggled to run the ball effectively in 2020, but the sole blame cannot be laid at the feet of the guys up front. The running backs deserve some blame. In addition, their best running back, James Conner, is scheduled to become a free agent this off-season and the Steelers are not expected to re-sign him.

The Steelers started last season 11-0, but mightily struggled down the stretch and in their Wild Card loss to the Browns. A huge reason the Steelers failed to continue their hot start to the season was their lack of an even decent ground game. The Steelers not being able to run the ball forced an aging Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball far too much and that isn’t how the Steelers will get their offense rolling. Big Ben’s cap hit is $41 million for 2021, but signs point to him restructuring his contact and being under center in Pittsburgh in 2021. While it is still possible that someone else is the quarterback of the Steelers next season, the Steelers need to fix their run game no matter who is under center.

Last Word

Since Johnson was released and isn’t an impending free agent, he is free to immediately ink a deal with a team. Players who are set to become free agents must wait until the new league year starts on March 17. The Pittsburgh Steelers signing Duke Johnson would be a smart move and they shouldn’t delay because other teams, including the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions may be interested as well.

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