D’Ernest Johnson is once again on our fantasy radars because the Cleveland backfield apparently refuses to be fully healthy at any point this season. Heading into the fantasy football playoffs, Kareem Hunt’s injury is a question mark for Saturday’s game (yes, that’s right — Saturday). What should fantasy managers expect from Johnson in Week 15?
Kareem Hunt injury update
On Monday morning, head coach Kevin Stefanski told the media that Hunt is “unlikely” to play Saturday against the Raiders thanks to an ankle injury that he sustained on Sunday. When a coach comes out and makes a proclamation of that nature this early in the week, you can pretty much count on it being true. Fantasy managers should not expect Hunt to suit up this week.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Hunt is now considered “week to week” with his ankle injury. Whether he returns in Week 16 will be important to monitor.
Hunt has been dealing with injuries for most of the season and was forced out yesterday after only 2 carries. As expected, Nick Chubb handled the bulk of the work. However, Johnson came in as the clear second option after Hunt went down. He logged 4 carries for 22 yards, adding a short catch as well.
D’Ernest Johnson has looked good when he’s played this year
In case you didn’t know, Johnson was thrown into action earlier this season in a game in which both Chubb and Hunt were absent — and he did not disappoint. Johnson handled his business and turned in an explosive RB1 performance in prime time against the Denver Broncos.
That game was bonkers. He rushed 22 times for 146 yards and a TD and had 2 receptions for an extra 22 yards. Johnson was the best one-week waiver pickup of the fantasy football regular season.
Guess what? It wasn’t just that one game. He was the lead back again on November 14, getting 19 carries for 99 rushing yards, with 7 receptions for 58 yards. The Browns got throttled by the Patriots, but Johnson was a stud RB1 again and led the team in literally everything that day.
Even when he sees complementary work, he’s been efficient, explosive, and elusive. Johnson has averaged 5.3 yards per carry this year and looks every bit the part of a Browns running back to go along with Chubb’s lead role.
Johnson’s fantasy expectations
If Kareem Hunt misses Week 15, Johnson should factor into the game plan for Stefanski and the Browns. Between Weeks 1-6, Hunt averaged 11.5 carries and 4 targets per game and played 48.7% of the offensive snaps.
Will Johnson get that same split and workload? It’s possible. This team likes splitting the backfield work while relying heavily on a running back duo. Cleveland has a matchup with Las Vegas on Saturday, which is a juicy game for the Browns as they make a run at the playoffs.
The Raiders have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (31.7) over the last four weeks. They’ve given up the most receptions to RBs over that time (31 on 36 targets), conceding 223 receiving yards and 2 TDs to opposing backs.
The Browns don’t give Chubb much work in the passing game. He’s averaging only 1.5 receptions per game. Johnson could be a sneaky flex play in Week 15 with 8-10 carries and a decent workload as a receiver. He absolutely needs to be rostered. And if Hunt’s injury lingers, Johnson could have value throughout the fantasy playoffs.