Wednesday, 04 February 2015 00:00

Dynasty RB Rankings Tier 1.0 : Duke Johnson

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Dynasty RB Rankings Tier 1.0 : Duke Johnson Alysha Khan/Flickr

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School: University of Miami

Position: RB

Height: 5'9

Weight: 194 lbs

Position Rank: Top 10

Class: Junior

Accolades: 2012 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, Second-team All-ACC (2012,2013), First-team All-ACC (2014)

Elusive, speedy, and great instincts. These are some of the words thrown around when you mention fantasy dynasty prospect Duke Johnson. Johnson possesses the kind of explosiveness only seen among elite running backs. It was with t

Quick start in college

As a true freshman, Johnson exploded onto the scene in his very first game with the Hurricanes against Boston College, rushing for two long touchdowns. Although he was splitting carries with teammate and future Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike James, Johnson finished with 135 yards on just seven carries (19.3 yards per carry) while James tallied 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 ypc).

But much like catching a fish on your first cast can be a bad omen, Johnson failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark for the next seven games during his 2012 freshman season. He was held in check by defenses such as Notre Dame, a team led by Heisman finalist Manti-Teo, and Florida State's stout defense that would later go on to win the National Championship in 2013.

But Johnson eventually broke out, and turned in his first real big time game against ACC rival Virginia. Johnson finished with 16 carries for 150 yards and while he didn't score a touchdown, he threw for a score off a running back toss-pass play and ended up returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. He also finished with 214 net return yards.

In 2012, Johnson led the nation in plays of 50 yards or more from scrimmage with 11.

As you can see in this video, notice how Johnson keeps the play alive by changing his field across the middle. He doesn't run violently or look to initiate a whole lot of contact, rather preferring to make defenders miss with quick lateral shifts. He whips out the stiff arm when he can, but he's not somebody who's going to run defenders over, especially at the NFL level. Overall, Johnson excels with his ability Most running to convert his vertical north/south energy to east/west almost seamlessly. That, combined with his great instincts when it comes to knowing where the defenders are on the field and exactly how his shiftiness will be applied in a way that nets him the most positive yardage is a skill only truly gifted running backs have. You throw in his receiving ability and you've got a potential fantasy juggernaut on your hands.

Strengths:

  •     Elite speed
  •     Elusive
  •     Aggressive in the open field, extends plays
  •     Natural receiver
  •     Plays big for his size, can move defenders
  •     Gets to top speed quickly
  •     Runs with purpose decisive when hitting the hole

Weaknesses:

  •      Durability
  •      Pass blocking needs improvement
  •      Small size may prevent him from being a true workhorse back
  •    Small size may also prevent him from getting goal line carries

Injury bug bites sophomore year

Johnson was on his way to a breakout season in 2013 after rushing for more than 150 yards in three of his eight starts. But against arguably the Hurricanes biggest game against Florida State, Johnson saw his season come to an end after breaking his ankle. It's worth noting he rushed for 97 yards on 23 carries (4.2 ypc) against the Seminoles, a defense that was arguably one of the best that season.

A crazy good junior season

Some of Johnson's best performances came in 2014. At that time, Miami wasn't as potent of an offensive team due to their lack of consistency at quarterback, which resulted in Johnson carrying the load. It was because of this, combined with Johnson's maturity as a player, that allowed him to compile his most successful season. Johnson totaled 1,652 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns his junior year, scoring a touchdown in 9-of-14 games. His best effort came against Virginia Tech, where he demolished the Hokies for 249 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. It was the most ever rushing yards by an opposing player at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium and had Johnson not left the game after twisting his ankle with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter, he might've eclipsed 300 yards.

We mentioned his receiving ability as well. Here's an example of Johnson's catching ability out of the backfield.

 

Fantasy Outlook

What team Johnson lands on will have a much bigger impact on his fantasy value than some of the other top runners like Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman. Johnson will thrive in an offense geared around throwing out of the backfield via screens and dump offs. It's too bad the Kansas City Chiefs are currently loaded at the running back spot with Jamaal Charles and Kniles Davis, otherwise Johnson would be an ideal fit under Andy Reid.

But that's not the only place Johnson could potentially thrive. Pass-heavy offenses like Detroit, Atlanta and Indianapolis all have competent quarterbacks and could make great use out of Johnson's receiving ability. They have a demand at the running back position which would make Johnson immediately relevant in redraft leagues. No matter where he ends up, offensive coordinators will definitely want to get him the ball in open space out of the backfield in order to maximize his talents. 

While Johnson definitely has the talent to be a three-down back, durability concerns based on his ankle injury against Florida State in 2013 coupled with his undersized frame could make him more suited in a committee style attack. It doesn't mean he can't be a valuable fantasy option, but it's likely he won't be a 25-30 carry per game guy. Even with that, he actually might be the most potent fantasy running backs in this class due to his natural catching abilities for PPR leagues, his return yardage for leagues that value return yards more and his explosive speed that will allow him to post those big 25-30 fantasy point games.

Player Comparison: LeSean McCoy

When it comes to current NFL running backs who play like Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy immediately comes to mind. Like McCoy, Johnson is undersized, elusive, speedy and catches ball well out of the backfield. Johnson, like McCoy, might have trouble becoming an insider runner at the NFL level due to his lack of size.

McCoy/Johnson physical comparison:

LeSean McCoy
Player Duke Johnson
5'11" Height 5'9"*
208 lbs Weight 194 lbs
65 (two seasons) No. of receptions (college) 69 (two and a half seasons)
4.5 40 yard dash X

*Listed height, keep watch for his official height/weight measurement at combine

Dynasty grade: Top 5 pick

View Alysha Khan's Flickr page here.

Last modified on Friday, 06 February 2015 02:19
George Banko

George Banko started talking about fantasy football shortly after graduating college. He started as an intern at FFChamps.com before working as a staff writer for Fantasy Knuckleheads. He currently contributes to the Fantasy Hot Read podcast, which is available on itunes. He also educated himself on player evaluation and is a graduate of The Scouting Academy in 2015, which is an online course run by former NFL Scout Dan Hatman. He started Fantasy Football Helpers as a blog in 2011 and converted it to a full-scale website in 2014. Read more.

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