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    Fantasy Football: Following trade to Texans, Duke Johnson is a sleeper (PFN Film Room)

    The Houston Texans made a trade for Duke Johnson last week in a move that should significantly impact their passing game and the fantasy football world.

    Former Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson was dealt last week to the Houston Texans who hope to revitalize their offensive backfield. Along with the trade comes fantasy football implications.

    Restricted to a secondary role with the Browns, Johnson has consistently excelled as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. His performances as a receiver have indicated he could be an integral part of an offense when given the opportunity. Such an opportunity looks to present itself in Houston.

    Lamar Miller is the unquestioned starter for the Texans. However, he has done nothing to suggest he should not cede touches to Johnson. Miller has started all 16 games just twice in a seven-year career. Miller’s career 7.5 yards per reception is respectable. With PPR becoming the dominant scoring system in fantasy football, Johnson’s career clip of 9.2 makes him a more intriguing option.

    Per Fantasy Pros, Johnson’s average draft position in ESPN PPR leagues is 190. That is very low for a player who caught 74 balls as recently as 2017 and leads all running backs in receiving yards since entering the league in 2015, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.

    With his history of excelling as a receiver and an underrated ability as a change-of-pace back, Johnson has significant sleeper appeal and merits serious consideration for those looking for a draft-day gem.

    Running Ability

    Though Johnson has made his name as a receiving back, he has the talent as a runner to eat into Miller’s workload. He averaged 5 yards per carry last season on 40 attempts and was superior to Miller in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA metric. Johnson had a DVOA of 7.2% while Miller’s was -5.3% as the lead back for the Texans.

    Johnson has the vision and elusiveness to excel in between the tackles and showcased each of these qualities in a Week 6 encounter with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018.

    Johnson demonstrates his vision on this 17-yard run with the Browns backed up against their endzone. Johnson spots the cutback lane but also has the wherewithal to understand the hole to his left is about to be filled by two defenders and correctly decides to attack the crease between the right tackle and tight end. He then shows an ability to keep his legs driving through contact to pick up extra yardage.

    Johnson showed off his agility and elusiveness later in the same drive. On a delayed hand-off. He makes the defensive end miss in the backfield and gets to the edge for a massive gain by faking a cutback to the inside to get the second-level defender to hesitate.

    Between his vision, elusiveness and contact balance, Johnson boasts the three most important traits needed to succeed as a runner in the NFL. However, it is in the receiving game where his opportunities to showcase them have been most prolific.


    Johnson brings outstanding pass-catching upside to the Texans. Per Pro Football Focus, he has converted 44% of his receptions into either a first down or a touchdown. His vision, ability to elude defenders and fight through contact have been consistently evident on those scoring plays, such as this touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    After sneaking out of the backfield unnoticed, Johnson makes the catch and demonstrates outstanding balance to stay on his feet. Despite a hard low hit from the linebacker, Johnson maintains his forward momentum and strolls into the endzone.

    One of the most impressive touchdowns of Johnson’s career came in the 2017 game with the New York Jets. Johnson displays his skills in the open field by skipping by a defender to get to the edge. There he finds a lane to work back inside and then battles through a pair of tackles for the score.

    Johnson has another string to his bow beyond being able to make people miss and find running lanes. He has also demonstrated prowess as a route runner. His aptitude in that area of the game came to the forefront as Johnson scored the only Browns touchdown in their 2017 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here, Johnson is lined up in the slot and faced with a last-second adjustment that sees a linebacker come across the field to pick him up in off-man coverage. Johnson uses his quickness to break back to the inside and leave the defender entirely out of position and makes a fine catch on a ball delivered with excellent anticipation by DeShone Kizer.

    Opportunity with Texans

    Johnson can line up out wide, in the slot, as well as in the backfield which alone makes him a dangerous fantasy football player. He boasts strong hands, route-running chops, and the open-field ability to turn short passes into huge gains and scoring plays.

    There’s a case for him to be considered a top receiving back in the NFL. Furthermore, he’s joined a team needing to replace 67 receptions from a year ago with departures of Alfred Blue, Demaryius Thomas, and tight end Ryan Griffin. The Texans hope Johnson can help them do just that

    Johnson has proven to be a difference-maker in the passing game and is in line to receive substantial opportunities from a Texans team in dire need of a safety net for Deshaun Watson. At his current ADP, Johnson is a steal who could be an x-factor for a fantasy football championship run in 2019.

    Nicholas McGee is a Film Room writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasmcgee24.

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