It is always a good sign when your coach says the answer to fixing his team’s offense is to use your NFL fantasy running back more. This is the case in Cleveland where Duke Johnson has been getting more involved in the offensive game plan each week.
You might remember the preseason when Cleveland said they would run Isaiah Crowell 20 times a game. To get Johnson some touches, they planned to use him as a wide receiver. In Week 1, he did not line up in the backfield for a single play in the Browns’ loss to Pittsburgh.
That game plan didn’t work very well. Crowell was asked to run freer than he did last season, but he has been slow to hit holes. It is clear that his field vision is not up to the task. He has fallen into near irrelevance, even after being assured he would see more usage after a Week 3 meeting with coach Hue Jackson.
As Crowell fades into oblivion, Duke Johnson picks up the slack. He is not taking 20 carries a game; in fact, the Browns have been quick to abandon the running game whenever they fall behind which, you know… the Browns. But in only 13 carries over three games, Johnson has produced two runs of over 15 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Johnson continues to be the main cog in the passing game, too. He has 20 receptions on 28 targets for 207 yards through Week 4. Most of the receiving numbers and all the rushing yardage came after Week 1. Johnson leads the team in both rushing and receiving yardage.
Can he keep it up?
There is no sign that the Browns plan on lessening Johnson’s involvement in the offense. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has developed no rapport with his wide receivers. After Johnson, Kizer is likely to look for his two tight ends before a wideout. The Browns will have to fix that anomaly. They signed a speedy deep threat in Bryce Treggs. Rashard Higgins was activated in Week 2 and became a waiver wire hotshot with 99 total yards. In two games since then, he has added only ten more. Kenny Britt drops too many passes and Sammie Coates can’t get on the field.
Rookie running back Matthew Dayes did not exactly light up the scoreboard in the two games he was active, but he might get more carries as Crowell’s star fades.
All indications are, however, that Duke Johnson will remain the leading receiving threat and gradually handle more of the running game. Since touches make the fantasy star, it looks as though Johnson’s opportunities will keep him relevant.
So, you’re saying…
Unfortunately, Johnson plays for the Browns. Even though he has an above-average offensive line, a quarterback who trusts his hands more than any other receiver, and an increasing role in the offense, I can’t call him a must-start in standard scoring leagues. He is a touchdown-dependent RB-2. His receiving role offers him a good floor. You can count on him for 6-8 points most weeks.
As the weeks go on, we need to monitor his touches in the running game, and how much running the team does. To be the primary back on a team that only rushes 13-16 times a game doesn’t hold much water. We also need to see if Kizer ever starts forcing the ball to wide receivers. He says he wants to throw deep, but he seems hesitant to throw into close contact.
For now, I would classify Johnson as a safe play for his decent floor in standard leagues. His targets and receptions are enough to make him a must-start in PPR leagues. His PPR floor is in the double-digits. He could have more receptions in 2017 than he had last season when he finished second only to David Johnson in receptions by a running back.
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