As we close in toward a new season, the ever-changing NFL landscape has player fantasy football values constantly on the move, and nothing shakes up the league like the recently finished NFL Draft, where young rookies begin their NFL careers.
Roschon Johnson’s Dynasty Outlook and Value
The 2023 NFL Draft was brutal for running backs. Only Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs came out looking like winners at first glance. Just 18 were drafted over the three days, the lowest total since 2000. Of those, only seven went in the first two days, showing a very clear message about who the NFL thought was capable coming out of college and who was not.
But hear me out on this one. Roschon Johnson might be the monster in the shadows no one realized was there. If not for being behind the best rusher in the last three years — if he would have had a clear backfield — would he be a slam-dunk prospect? It feels like the Bears clearly think so, as they selected him at pick No. 115 in the fourth round, despite Johnson rushing just 93 times last season.
I view Johnson as the Bears’ starting running back by, at the latest, Week 5. At 6’2″, 223 pounds, he didn’t blow the doors of the NFL Combine, but he still tested well for his size, posting an 8.67 RAS with an elite 10-yard spit of 1.54 seconds, matching the burst and acceleration he shows coming out of cuts hitting holes.
But all you have to do is put on the tape. This 21-yard touchdown run with four defenders bouncing off of him as a freshman still lives rent free in my head.
Johnson Is a Workhorse Capable Running Back With No. 1 Upside
Johnson is a physical, in-your-face rusher with more wiggle than expected. In fact, his 45% forced-missed-tackle rate over the last two years was No. 1 in the country (minimum 190 attempts). In 2022 alone, he averaged 4.28 yards per carry after contact, the eighth highest and ahead of Robinson. He never averaged fewer than 5.2 yards per carry, and 71.9% of his yards came after contact.
Johnson is also a plus receiver out of the backfield, catching 56 of 74 targets for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Not to mention, he’s one of the best pass-blocking running backs since Ezekiel Elliott was at Ohio State.
Sure, he might not have Devon Achane’s speed, but Johnson is the total package. He, along with Robinson, Zach Charbonnet, and Kendre Miller, were the three running backs I felt the likeliest to have three-down potential in the NFL.
Who on the Bears’ roster is standing in the way of this happening? You have a 27-year-old D’Onta Foreman who is on a cheap one-year deal and coming off a 203-carry season, and then there is Khalil Herbert, who has flashed at times but is not attached to the new regime in Chicago.
Throw in the fact both Herbert and Foreman have maxed out at 14 receptions in a season, and there isn’t a scenario where I would favor either over Johnson, and I’m willing to bet the Bears share the sentiment.
Chicago was 31st in passing rate over expectation last year, and while I do expect them to throw the ball more often this season, they are still a run-first team. It’s how they have structured their roster, especially the offensive line, which was fifth in ESPN’s run-block win rate last season. The unit will likely only get better following the first-round selection of Darnell Wright to pair with Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis.
I genuinely believe that Johnson will be the best value at running back in 2023 drafts. I’m not saying he will be the best of this class, as that will go to Robinson and Gibbs, but you’re paying for that. Johnson is going under the radar, and he shouldn’t be. Of the RBs from the 2023 NFL Draft class, the only ones I would rather have for this season alone would be Robinson and Gibbs. Johnson will take the ball and literally run away with the job. Book it now.
Roschon Johnson’s Fantasy Ranking
As noted above, the Bears know who they are. They were No. 1 in rushing yards per game, 12th in rushing EPA per play, and No. 2 in explosive rushing percentage in neutral scripts. This is a product of their scheme — which utilized David Montgomery — and the fact that they have the top rushing QB in Justin Fields.
Still, Bears running backs accounted for 368 rushes (21.6 per game) and saw a 17.2% target share. Of this, Montgomery accounted for 235 touches and 1,117 yards and is now playing for the Detroit Lions. There’s a massive opportunity for Johnson sitting in front of him.
Most are writing off the 2023 season for Johnson and just handing it over to Foreman with Herbert the change-of-pace RB, but I don’t share the same sentiment. While it might take until Week 5 or 6, Johnson has the upside of a starting running back, even though I expect it to remain somewhat of a committee throughout the season. Johnson should end up in the 60% market share range, which would be RB2 value in this offense.
Johnson is currently my RB38 overall in dynasty and the RB6 in this class. There is a genuine debate that he should be selected over Charbonnet and Achane, given the Seattle landing spot for Charbonnet and the overall size concerns for Achane.
Johnson is more than just Bijan’s backup. He won’t play in that talented of a backfield again during the rest of his career.
He’s a surprisingly well-rounded player who can make someone miss, run them over, and has soft hands, but he will rip your helmet off if you come in standing up on a pass rush. He checks every box you look for when targeting upside. The scheme and the opportunity are there. If Johnson does his job, he could end up being one of the steals of the draft.
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