Hopkins is a dominant player in his absolute prime coming off a 104-catch season, unquestionably one of the greatest receivers of his era. Johnson was a notable disappointment last year, losing the featured rushing role for the Cardinals by mid-season. He’s averaged just 3.6 yards per carry since 2016. DJ also plays a position at which talent is widely regarded as replaceable, at least outside the elite tier.
Hopkins, of course, remains a top-of-the-ranks fantasy receiver following the move to Arizona. We’re not fretting about his production in the season ahead. Johnson, however, is a fantasy problem. DJ lost a job last season first to Chase Edmonds, then to mid-year acquisition Kenyan Drake. He’s given us almost no reason to believe he can return to the level he’d reached in 2016 when he caught 80 passes and led the NFL in both touchdowns (20) and scrimmage yards (2,118).
And yet, well … Johnson is the presumptive lead back for a team that finished ninth in the league in rushing last season (125.6 YPG). He’s a once-great player, still only 28 years old, and he’s in ostensibly an ideal spot.
As the Yahoo analyst who seems to be the most bullish on DJ, it falls to me to make the case for him as a player to target at his current ADP (62.4). I’m offering no guarantees with Johnson, but I’m certainly happy to roster him as a second RB. Here’s the case for drafting him, in three bold subheads …
Johnson was just fine last year, pre-injuries
To be clear, I’m not trying to overhype his performance in the early weeks of 2019, but he definitely didn’t look like a guy who was completely cooked. After Johnson’s first five games, he was averaging 4.1 YPC and on pace to finish his season with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage. But then the injuries hit.
Johnson’s back flared up in an October win at Cincinnati, leaving his status in doubt for a matchup with Atlanta in Week 6. He was ultimately active against the Falcons, and the man delivered a pretty fair performance:
DJ played 52 snaps in the win, gaining 102 total yards, catching six passes, and scoring twice. Fantasy managers weren’t complaining … yet.
Unfortunately, Johnson picked up an ankle injury to go with back trouble. He didn’t play more than 29 snaps in any game for the remainder of the season. The Cards worked out various backs from the discard pile, including Jay Ajayi and Spencer Ware. The aforementioned Drake arrived via trade at the end of October and dominated the team’s backfield touches through the end of the season. And then a few months later the Cardinals fleeced the Texans.
The important thing to note here is that as recently as October of 2019, Johnson was plenty productive. He was definitely assisting fantasy managers. If he can be that guy again, he can help us in 2020.
Bill O’Brien seems to have big plans for DJ
Houston’s head coach keeps referring to Johnson as a «three-down back» and we should take him at his word. In every year of O’Brien’s tenure with the Texans, he’s relied heavily on a primary runner. Arian Foster received 298 touches back in 2014, Lamar Miller saw 299 in 2016 and Carlos Hyde handled 255 last year. We shouldn’t view Houston’s backfield as a committee entering 2020, despite the fact that Duke Johnson is a versatile, efficient player. DJ is set to earn over $11 million this year, and, again, he was the primary return in an offseason mega-deal. He’s gonna see 16-plus touches per week when healthy.
We should also note that the Texans have enjoyed recent success with a running back reclamation project.
If Carlos Hyde can run for 1,000 yards in Houston…
Hyde appeared to be absolutely cooked entering 2019. When he was traded to the Texans last August, he was joining his fifth team in three years. He’d rushed for just 3.9 YPC in 2017 and an abysmal 3.3 in 2018. There was no reason to think he could contribute in a meaningful way for a team eyeing a deep postseason run.
All Hyde did last season was rush for 1,070 yards and six scores on 245 carries (4.4 YPC), plus another 92 yards in the playoffs. He fully recovered from a career nosedive during his year in Houston.
Even if you’re a serious skeptic about DJ’s potential in his sixth NFL season (which is reasonable), it’s unlikely you think less of him today than you thought of Hyde last summer. Carlos finished as RB27 in half-PPR formats last year and RB23 in standard; Johnson should beat that with relative ease if he can avoid significant injury.
He doesn’t need to be vintage David Johnson in order to help the fantasy community. His early 2019 production suggests he’s not yet finished.