With Kareem Hunt out, can D’Ernest Johnson be a fantasy streamer?

Kareem Hunt's already been ruled out for the Browns, but can you trust D'Ernest Johnson in your fantasy playoffs this week?

With the fantasy football playoffs upon us, lineup decisions are getting tougher and more important at the same time. Add to that all of the chaos around the Cleveland Browns testing positive for COVID-19 and you’ve got a perfect storm. Kareem Hunt has been ruled out, giving D’Ernest Johnson another chance to shine in fantasy lineups. But should you risk starting him?

Does Kareem Hunt’s injury open the door for D’Ernest Johnson?

In a normal week, the Browns would lean on stud running back Nick Chubb for most downs and use Hunt as a change of pace. With Hunt out and a lot of other players sidelined by COVID, it’s difficult to predict exactly what will play out on Monday. But that’s why you’re here, so let’s dig in.

When D’Ernest Johnson has been the sole back

Johnson has started two games where both Chubb and Hunt missed time due to injury or illness. In each of these games, Johnson got over 150 total yards of offense.

His first start was in Week 7. He went off at home against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night. The second was in Week 10 when the Browns traveled to Boston to play the Patriots.

Johnson finished Week 7 as RB4 in PPR scoring with 24.8 points. He rushed 22 times for 146 yards and a touchdown and added 2 catches for 22 yards receiving. In Week 10, with Chubb and Hunt both out again, Johnson dominated. He ran 19 times for 99 yards and caught 7 of 8 targets for 58 more yards through the air. He finished as RB6 on the week in PPR scoring.

Clearly, when given the job alone, Johnson can handle the pressure. The Browns seem more than happy to relegate him to third-string status with Chubb and Hunt healthy, but I’m honestly not sure why. With the way the season is going, depth and rest are going to make a huge difference if teams end up making it to the playoffs.

Johnson’s stats when he plays with Chubb

There have been three games this year where Johnson and Chubb played without Hunt. These came in Weeks 8, 9, and 11. Johnson was the clear backup to Chubb in those three games, and his stats back that up. In those three games, Chubb averaged 20.2 PPR points and 109.3 rushing yards. These are definitely starter-worthy numbers. By comparison, Johnson only averaged 4.7 points and 21.3 rushing yards — not much to write home about.

In Week 8, Johnson outscored Chubb in PPR scoring, 9.9 (RB30) to 7.9 (RB37), but 6 of those points were due to Johnson scoring a touchdown. In Weeks 9 and 11, Chubb was the clear lead back, finishing with 30.3 (RB3) and 22.4 (RB7) PPR points, respectively. Johnson finished as RB63 and RB55 in those same games and was clearly bench-worthy.

Is D’Ernest Johnson streamable against the Raiders?

The COVID-depleted Browns host the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday. While it may be hard to predict anything in fantasy accurately, we at least have some data to help guide our decisions this week.

The Raiders are beatable on the ground

For the season, the Raiders are currently 26th in rushing yards allowed with 1,629 and in volume with 375 carries. They’ve allowed over 100 total rushing yards in 10 of 13 games this year. The team that ran the most on them was the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, who are similar to the Browns in the sense that they favor the run.

The Browns’ top two quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum may miss the game due to COVID protocols, giving Nick Mullens the possible start. It’s hard to imagine that they put the game in Mullens’ hands. All of this points to a run-heavy game plan against a team weak against the run.

Should you start Johnson in the fantasy playoffs this week?

The stats aren’t exactly on Johnson’s side, but I think they’re good enough given all of the context. He’ll most likely be playing behind Chubb, but he should still see enough carries to make him start-worthy in most formats. The predicted game script heavily favors the run, which means the team’s rushing volume should go up. Johnson should see a fair share of that volume himself.

As I said when discussing Kansas City’s running backs, anyone who’s definitely playing should be considered start-worthy this week. We have yet to see what Sunday morning brings, and unless your roster is stacked with studs, you might not have many choices left to make by then. I’m definitely starting Chubb and probably starting Johnson on the teams that need the win. It might not work out, but the process feels solid, and that’s really all we can do to try to predict the unpredictable.

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