This is an intriguing addition for the Birds.
Johnson, 24, was the Lions’ second-round pick (No. 43 overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He showed promise as a rookie with 118 attempts for 641 rushing yards (very good 5.4 average), three touchdowns, and just one fumble. Johnson also caught 32 of his 39 targets for 213 yards and one score.
Johnson’s first-year campaign was cut short due to a knee injury. He had another knee injury that required surgery in 2019. Then the Lions (somewhat) unexpectedly Philly native D’Andre Swift in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, raising questions about Johnson’s future in Detroit.
Swift’s entrance didn’t entirely leave Johnson without a path to contribute, though, as our good friends over at Pride Of Detroit noted:
[....] Johnson assumed—and thrived—in a new role as the team’s third-down back. Former running backs coach Kyle Caskey deemed Johnson the best pass-blocking back he’s ever worked with.
Which makes this waiving somewhat surprising in the grand scheme of things. New running backs coach Duce Staley has already mentioned how pass protecting is essential to the position, and Johnson was clearly the best player they had in that aspect of the game. However, the addition of Jamaal Williams in free agency plus the drafting of Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round may have made his spot on the roster more expendable than it appeared.
Just looking at Johnson’s rushing production from the past two seasons (3.5 average), it doesn’t seem like a total shock like he was cut. But, as POD pointed out, he did have 29 receptions for 314 yards (very good 10.8 average) and two touchdowns in those years.
By claiming Johnson’s contract, the Eagles take on his $1.37 million base salary for 2021. None of that money is guaranteed, though, allowing Philly to move on from him if he doesn’t pan out.
Johnson figures to compete for a roster spot in a backfield that also currently includes Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, Jordan Howard (stock down suddenly), Elijah Holyfield, and Jason Huntley (also a former Lions draft pick!). Sanders and Gainwell are locks to make this year’s roster. Maybe Scott is, too, but ... maybe not? With Gainwell and Johnson being added to the team, the Eagles have certainly put an emphasis on pass-catching production. That’s especially noteworthy coming off a season in which Sanders struggled in that capacity.
At the very least, Johnson’s definitely worth taking a chance on. Good pickup by Howie Roseman.