by Ray Kuhn
Let’s just get it out of the way to start, David Johnson is no longer an elite running back. This is contrary to whatever it is that is going through Bill O’Brien’s mind, but thankfully we don’t have the Houston decision maker running our fantasy team. It doesn’t mean we should be ignoring the new Texans’ running back on draft day, we just need to value him properly.
Early ADP has Johnson coming off the board as the 39th running back with the 119th pick, and there is a great deal of uncertainty baked into that. If we take a step back Johnson really had one true, elite, season in his five year career. That was four years ago in 2016, when he rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 TD while catching 80 passes for 879 yards and another 4 TD. Since then he has struggled with injury (just 23 rushing yards in 2017) and poor performance.
He did rebound in 2018 to rush for 960 yards while catching 50 passes for another 446 yards and gaining a combined 11 TD, but last year was just a disaster. While he did appear in 13 games, Johnson battled injury, lost time to both Chance Edmonds and Kenyan Drake and ultimately proved to be expendable. He finished the season with 95 carries for 345 yards but remained a factor in the passing game with 36 receptions for 370 yards while scoring six combined TD.
The fact that Johnson has shown to be a more than capable option in the passing game does help to preserve his value. As a running back, other than averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his rookie season (and 4.2 in 2016 when he clearly took a step forward) Johnson doesn’t show much in the way of explosiveness out of the backfield. He can eclipse the 1,000 yard mark (he came close two years ago), but it is more volume based than anything as in the last two seasons he has averaged 3.6 and 3.7 yards per carry, respectively.
If we want to take that a step further, Johnson ranks very much towards the bottom of running backs when it comes to his broken tackle rate (3.2%), and things don’t get much better when it comes to his yards after contact (53.9%) and average yards after contact (2.0).
As he replaces Carlos Hyde, Johnson is the better running back so at least there is an upgrade and the workload is going to be there for Houston’s new addition. Last season Hyde rushed for 1,070 yards, so that is a reasonable expectation for Johnson in 2020. To be honest, at this point in their careers the two running backs might very much be closer than anyone would expect (with a 196 ADP for Hyde, the early draft market doesn’t think so). From a performance standpoint, based on everything we have seen it’s hard to expect much more from Johnson this season.
The part where Johnson does set himself apart is his success in the passing game. However, we can’t forget about Duke Johnson. The two Johnson’s will be competing to some degree for targets, and despite the addition of Randall Cobb there are some targets up for grabs with the departure of DeAndre Hopkins.
We are going to see Johnson’s price rise based on the fact that he now has a secure role, but it would be an overreaction to think that he should rise into RB1 territory. Until I see otherwise Johnson is more of an RB2/FLEX option, but this week’s trade did have a positive impact on his fantasy value.
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 Fantasy Baseball preseason rankings: