The Cleveland Browns delivered one of the more shocking blows in Week 9 by thoroughly dominating their division rival Cincinnati Bengals to the tune of 41-16 at Paul Brown Stadium. The victory helped Cleveland improve their standing in the ultra-competitive AFC North and they'll now compose themselves for a crucial road match against the New England Patriots. The result of that Week 10 contest will have a profound impact on the current playoff picture in the AFC.
As head coach Kevin Stefanski prepares to take on Belichick's Patriots, the Browns were dealt several noteworthy blows on Tuesday afternoon. According to multiple reports, a trio of Browns running backs tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, including star running back Nick Chubb and swiss-army knife rookie playmaker Demetric Felton. With Kareem Hunt still nursing a calf injury on injured reserve, that leaves Cleveland with one healthy running back on its roster in the form of feel-good story and former Orlando Apollos superstar, D'Ernest Johnson.
The situation is setting up for a heavy workload and big week for Johnson, who now appears to be a must-start in all fantasy formats and the most popular waiver wire add of the week.
Fortunately for all involved, we don't have to travel far back in time in order to understand what Johnson is capable of producing in a full-time role. The former undrafted free agent out of South Florida earned the start in Cleveland's Week 7 primetime victory over the Denver Broncos due to various injuries in Cleveland’s backfield. Johnson captured national headlines by rushing for an astounding 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Johnson added two receptions and 22 yards to his game-day totals. It marked just the second time that a running back surpassed 100 yards against Denver's stingy run defense this season.
Should Johnson carry the load against New England, and we currently have every reason to believe he will, he'll encounter a middle-of-the-road unit that is allowing opposing rushing attacks to total 108.9 yards per contest via the ground game. It represents a fairly neutral matchup for a player that has already proven capable of taking advantage of a big opportunity.
It’s worth noting that Chubb and Felton have technically not been ruled out from appearing in Sunday's appetizing contest against the Patriots. Either player would be deemed healthy enough to suit up should they provide the league with two negative tests 24 hours apart prior to Sunday, but the race is officially on. Unless these positive tests prove to be false-positives, both Chubb and Felton are currently trending on the wrong side of questionable. Cleveland will also likely add a ball-carrier or two in order to make up the numbers, but they aren't going to find a runner that would prove worthy of cutting into Johnson's touches.
Should Chubb, Felton, and John Kelly be forced to quarantine past Sunday’s contest against the Patriots, it would free up a ton of carries in Cleveland's run-heavy offensive approach. Look for Johnson to make the most of that opportunity for the second time this season.