After years of elite expectations, running back David Johnson is no longer at the top of every fantasy owners wish list. The former Arizona Cardinal hasn’t been an elite running back since 2016 and has let fantasy owners down for the better part of three years. However, can a new environment help him return to his own self?
Note: All rankings and fantasy point totals are given in PPR format
2020 Fantasy Football Outlook: David Johnson
If 2017 was the beginning of the end for David Johnson’s career in Arizona, then 2019 was the final nail in the coffin. After entering the season as the starter, Johnson quickly lost the job to Chase Edmonds and, shortly thereafter, Kenyan Drake.
However, it’s worth noting that Johnson was actually pretty effective when given the starting role. Through the first six weeks of the season, Johnson averaged 20.2 fantasy points per game and was the RB5 overall. While he wasn’t anything special running the ball, he still managed to make a difference in the passing game. Johnson averaged an impressive 10.5 yards-per-reception over this stretch and, per Football Outsiders, Johnson was the sixth-most efficient receiving back in the entire NFL.
Kliff Kingsbury’s favorable scheme helped Johnson’s receiving efficiency, but these numbers show that Johnson can still play in the right situation. Rushing production has more to do with blocking and scheme than the actual running back, and Johnson can still make plays in the passing game. All he needs is the right opportunity.
Literally everything that could change for David Johnson, did change. The Cardinals traded Johnson and a second-round pick to the Houston Texans for superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Ignoring the lopsided nature of this trade, let’s break down how Johnson fits in Bill O’Brien’s offense.
Say what you will about Bill O’Brien the general manager, but Bill O’Brien the coach managed to get a 1,000-yard season out of Carlos Hyde. Hyde is out of the picture, and the Texans didn’t bring in anyone else to compete for targets. The only other running back of note on the roster is Duke Johnson, and he doesn’t do too much as an actual runner. Assuming he can stay on the field, David Johnson should be a lock for 200+ carries.
Johnson’s potential role in the passing game is where things get interesting. Hopkins had one of the largest target shares in the league, and those 150 targets need to go somewhere. Historically speaking, vacated targets tend to disproportionately go to the running back when there isn’t a one-for-one replacement on the roster. David Johnson obviously won’t receive 150 targets, but he should have a big role in the passing game.
If we go down Narrative Street for a little bit, Bill O’Brien will want to justify the DeAndre Hopkins trade. The best way for him to do that is by giving Johnson the rock early and often. David Johnson is the unquestioned early-down guy, and last year proved he can still make plays in the receiving game. The stars are quietly aligning for Johnson to once again be a true three-down back.
David Johnson ADP
According to FantasyPros ADP, David Johnson is currently the RB20 off the board and the 38th overall pick in fantasy drafts. This puts him in the same tier as running backs like Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, and James Conner.
Truthfully, this represents a great value for Johnson. The former Arizona Cardinal might not ever recapture his 2016 magic, but he’s in the best situation of all the veteran running backs. Le’Veon Bell is in a bad offense with a coach that didn’t want him on the team in the first place, Melvin Gordon has an unproven quarterback and has to split time with Phillip Lindsay, and James Conner is entirely dependent on an age-38 Ben Roethlisberger returning to complete health following a serious elbow injury.
David Johnson comes with his own injury concerns, but he is not unique in that regard. Of these older running backs, Johnson easily has the best quarterback situation and a coach that has everything to lose by not playing him as much as humanly possible. He might not have RB1 upside anymore, but he should be a great RB2 for your fantasy team.
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