How the signing of Duke Johnson affects the Jaguars’ backfield

Duke Johnson, Jaguars
NFL Analysis Network

The Jacksonville Jaguars are entering a new era in their franchise with Urban Meyer accepting the reins as their new head coach. Besides Meyer, Trevor Lawrence is now the starting quarterback of the Jaguars, bringing hope to a franchise that hasn’t experienced much winning in recent seasons. As for the backfield, the goal was for James Robinson and rookie Travis Etienne to split the workload, but Etienne suffered an unfortunate season-ending foot injury. Due to Etienne’s ailment, Jacksonville recently signed Duke Johnson to provide more depth at running back.

Johnson has never been able to have a consistent role in the offense he’s been in, but he’s more than capable in certain areas. The 27-year-old running back is a nice complimentary piece to what the Jaguars already have on the roster. How will Jacksonville divvy up the carries between Robinson, Hyde, and Johnson? And who will see the most work in the passing game?

With the first week of NFL action around the corner, here is how the signing of Johnson affects the backfield of the Jaguars this season.

What Duke Johnson Brings To The Jaguars

Throughout his first six seasons in the NFL, Johnson has only seen 100+ carries in a single season just once. That came back in 2015 when he was a rookie for the Cleveland Browns. While Johnson hasn’t been used as a traditional running back on the ground, he has proven to be effective as a receiver. Being able to contribute in passing situations is one way to get playing time in today’s NFL.

In five of his six seasons, Johnson has caught 40+ passes and he’s eclipsed 400+ receiving yards in every season he corraled 40+ receptions. Adding another veteran that understands pass protections and can contribute in the passing game — which helps out Trevor Lawrence — was something that Meyer clearly wanted to do by bringing in Johnson.

How Will Jacksonville’s Backfield Shake Out?

Upon the loss of Etienne, Robinson should be the No. 1 running back for the Jaguars, similar to how he was in 2020. Robinson showed last season that he’s more than capable of handling a heavy workload in Jacksonville’s offense. However, Meyer brought in Hyde for a reason, so I expect the veteran to spell Robinson during games for a few carries himself. Hyde isn’t going to come close to touching the ball as much as Robinson, but he will have somewhat of a role.

As for Johnson, it’s obvious that the Jaguars wanted to replace Etienne with a receiving back that could pair nicely with Robinson and Hyde. The addition of Johnson definitely limits the ceiling of Robinson and Hyde in the passing game. When it’s all said and done, Robinson leads the backfield in touches by a wide margin, with Hyde getting carries in certain moments, and Johnson will see work on passing downs.

I don’t expect Johnson to be used much on the ground unless another injury takes place this season. Again, he hasn’t received 100+ carries since 2015 so it’s hard to envision him topping that in 2021.