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A post-draft bonus? Eagles claim former second-round pick RB Kerryon Johnson off waivers

Kerryon Johnson 1920 050721

It's a Friday and sometimes moves like this get lost in the shuffle. It's also the post-NFL Draft period, when teams make the kind of moves the Eagles made when they claimed running back Kerryon Johnson off of waivers from Detroit that pay off when the pads go on in the summer.

No risk. A reward, possibly.

What the Eagles did on Friday certainly made a lot of sense as they added Johnson – a 2018 second-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions – to a backfield that can use some size and competition. The 43rd overall pick in '18, Johnson had a strong rookie campaign for the Lions as he ran for 641 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and added 213 yards in the receiving game playing in 10 games, with seven starts. At 5-11 and 211 pounds, he packs some punch. Johnson is a strong pass blocker and a versatile player who was, obviously, highly touted coming out of Auburn entering the NFL.

He suffered some injuries early in his career and his numbers reflect that – Johnson gained only 403 yards on the ground in 2019 with 10 catches for 127 yards and then had 181 rushing yards on 52 carries last season – but the Eagles know how good Johnson can be when he's healthy. The word on Johnson is that he runs with size, and that he's a slasher and a violent finisher. 

What it means for the Eagles is that they have added a player entering the final year of his rookie contract who has a lot of incentive to succeed in 2021. Things went a bit south for Johnson – and for the Lions – after the 2018 campaign, so maybe a change of scenery, a new offense, and a potentially top-level offensive line in Philadelphia will help Johnson bounce back.

In college, Johnson was a beast as he ran for 2,494 yards and 32 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per rushing attempt. Johnson also showed he could help on the receiving end of things with 55 catches, 478 yards, and a pair of touchdowns in the three seasons he played at Auburn. He was the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 when Johnson accounted for 1,391 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and added 24 receptions for 194 yards and a pair of scores in the passing game.

He was a dominating player and the NFL had high marks on him, so nobody was surprised when Detroit used a second-round draft pick on Johnson in 2018. His rookie season was promising and it appeared that Johnson was well on his way to becoming the kind of franchise running back that Detroit had long sought. Instead, knee injuries cost Johnson 14 games and his production dropped.

The Eagles' backfield remains a work in progress with Miles Sanders leading the way, with Boston Scott a proven contributor, with Jordan Howard a veteran, big back who signed a one-year contract in free agency to return for 2021, with fifth-round draft pick Kenny Gainwell new to the team and with a trio of second-year backs – Elijah Holyfield, Jason Huntley, and Adrian Killins – looking to make their marks. You can never have enough running backs in the league, right? And it certainly is a smart move to keep the waiver wire a live option when players like Johnson are available.

So, we'll see how it all pans out. This is how a roster is rebuilt – with strong drafts, with alert and smart moves like the one to claim Johnson, and with a veteran personnel staff that has to accurately predict the rosters of the other 31 NFL teams.

This is a move worth paying attention to. The Eagles are being aggressive, keeping their eyes open, and their options the same as they look to add talent across the board on this roster. Kerryon Johnson has talent; nobody doubts that. Maybe the move to Philadelphia in this new Eagles offense will be the kind of jolt he needs to get his game on the track it appeared to be after his fine rookie season in 2018. If nothing else, it's more competition in the Eagles' backfield, and that's always a good thing.

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