Rookie Report Card: Duke Johnson and Terron Ward

Dan Meylor


Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2015 potential and long term upside.

The series continues with a look at Duke Johnson and Terron Ward.

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Duke Johnson, RB CLE
Week Four Stats: eight carries, 31 rushing yards, nine receptions, 85 receiving yards, one touchdown reception

duke3The debate raged on throughout the off-season as to which running back deserved to be the third at the position selected in rookie drafts by dynasty owners. Although most felt T.J. Yeldon, Ameer Abdullah or Tevin Coleman were the top rookies after Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, I was steadfast that Johnson was the most talented tailback among the group.

Johnson was very impressive while at Miami. Perhaps the most explosive runner in the draft, he showed the ability while in college to blast through running holes, hit cutback lanes on a dime and get the edge on perimeter runs with ease.

To go along with his excellent burst at the snap, Johnson showed rare patience for a player with his speed. Regularly stuttering after taking a handoff to allow his blocks to develop, he’d then accelerate through the hole. Once he’d reach the second level, he often dazzled with the ability to stop and start or change directions in a blink to make defenders completely whiff on a tackle.

Johnson also showed while in college that he can play bigger than his size. Although he measures at 5’-9” and 207 pounds, he showed a reckless abandon while running the ball between the tackles. With his incredible quickness, he often hit the hole with so much momentum that he could beat linebackers to the hole or power through arm tackles with ease.

More than anything else, Johnson’s abilities in space were what made him most attractive coming out of college. With good hands, very savvy route running, and the acceleration and straight line speed to turn a modest checkdown into an 80-yard touchdown, he showed while with the Hurricanes that he could be a big playmaker once he was playing on Sundays.

In week four, those skills in the open field were on display.

Johnson made his first big impact of the game on Sunday early in the second quarter, but he looked more like Randall Cobb or Victor Cruz then a rookie running back. Lining up across from Melvin Ingram in the left slot, he blasted past the linebacker on a fade towards the left pylon. With a perfectly placed ball from Josh McCown, he caught the pass in the back of the end zone and tapped his toes for the 34-yard score.

Throughout the rest of the game, Johnson continued to make plays as a receiver, although they were far more traditional than his touchdown grab. Used as the primary third down or passing down tailback, he was mostly asked to be a check down receiver for McCown, running routes in the flat or just beyond the line of scrimmage. Each time he touched the ball however, he looked to make a big play.

Johnson proved on Sunday the things he did well while in college will translate well to the next level. In limited opportunities as a runner, he ran hard and displayed the incredible burst and fearless running style that made his such an attractive runner while in college. Showing off a brilliant side step as well as a nice stiff arm and even a spin move after catching the ball, he showed he can be a very effective pass catcher both as a dump off option or as a route runner from the slot.

When Johnson was selected by the Browns in the third round of the NFL draft, many of us rolled our eyes and dropped our heads at the awful landing spot for such a specialist. After all, Mike Pettine has proven time and again he’s unable to maximize the strengths of his players. I went so far as to drop him temporarily in my rookie rankings because of the landing spot. With that said however, it appears the Browns’ coaching staff has figured out how to use their newest weapon.

Over the last two weeks, Johnson has touched the ball 27 times and been targeted 17 times in the passing game. Most of his targets have come on check downs, but Pettine and the offensive coaching staff have also made a point to try to get him in space on screens and perimeter runs at least a few times in each of the last couple weeks.

Although Johnson hasn’t looked particularly good as a runner (31 carries for 99 yards on the season), he’s proven that he has the talent to be the most dynamic offensive weapons on the team. Going forward, dynasty owners should expect the Browns to continue to try to get him the ball in the open field which means he’ll likely continue to get more and more valuable in fantasy – particularly in PPR leagues.

In the short term, it appears Johnson will have trouble unseating Isaiah Crowell for early down carries but he certainly has the long term upside to contribute as a three down player for the Browns and as a RB2 for fantasy owners. In the meantime however, he’s established himself as a fringe flex play each week for fantasy owners in PPR leagues.

Due to Johnson’s long term upside, he should be on dynasty owners’ list of players to target in trades.

Rookie Report Card
Player: Duke Johnson
Performance To Date 2015 Potential Long Term Upside
C B- B+


Terron Ward, RB ATL
Week Four Stats: 19 carries, 72 rushing yards, one touchdown, three receptions, 30 receiving yards

To be completely honest, I didn’t know who Ward was until he made a few plays for the Falcons in a preseason game I watched on NFL Network. A quick google search showed that he ran for 1,843 yards on 337 carries (4.9 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns during his four years at Oregon State. He also caught 87 passes for 664 yards and three more scores while with the Beavers.

Ward – who is the younger brother of Broncos pro bowl safety T.J. Ward – wasn’t invited to the combine but posted solid numbers at his pro day, running a 4.41 40-yard dash and doing 20 reps on the bench press. He went undrafted but was scooped up by the Falcons as a free agent and beat out Antone Smith for the third running back role in Atlanta.

Over the first three weeks of his rookie year, Ward was used very little (playing just 19 of 223 plays (8.5%) and going without a carry while catching one pass for nine yards). In week four, he was on the field for 32 of 74 plays (43%) – but much of his playing time came in garbage time after Devonta Freeman did much of the heavy lifting.

Ward carried the ball 19 times in the Falcons’ win on Sunday, gaining 72 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and scoring a touchdown. For the most part, he got what was blocked and looked solid but certainly not spectacular.

The highlight of Ward’s day came late in the third quarter on third-and-five from the eight-yard line. Lined up to the right of Matt Ryan who was in the shotgun, he took the handoff and slid through a crease in the middle of the Houston defense before powering through a trio of Texans for the score.

Although many may be searching for Ward’s name on the waiver wire, dynasty owners should keep their expectations tempered when it comes to the rookie. After all, Freeman has proven with back-to-back big games that he can be a bell cow runner and fellow rookie Tevin Coleman is on track to return in the next couple weeks.

The only way Ward becomes a factor in fantasy leagues is if Coleman suffers a setback and Freeman misses time to injury as well. While Ward is worth a speculative add for owners with an open roster spot in a deep league, nobody should be expecting much from the rookie runner in the short or the long term.

Rookie Report Card
Player: Terron Ward
Performance To Date 2015 Potential Long Term Upside
D- C- C-



dan meylor