Standing 5’9” and weighing in at 207 lbs, Johnson has tremendous burst at the snap of the football. Reaching top speed in just a few steps, he attacks the line of scrimmage before most defenders have at a chance to react to the play – this is not only a testament to his athleticism but also an indicator of his ability to diagnose the line of scrimmage quickly and decisively. As a runner, Johnson displays very good balance which allows him to keep his footing against indirect tackles and extend plays. In addition, Johnson has good lateral agility which, when combined with the traits above, make him a player that’s tough to corral. Johnson is also very unique in his ability to consistently fall forward despite his size. Johnson is excellent at the moment of impact in veering away from tackles for positive yardage.
As a receiver out of the backfield, Johnson will be an asset to the Browns. Johnson has good hands and shows an ability to adjust well to the football when it’s in the air. When you combine all of Johnson’s traits together you have a running back that offers scheme versatility. However, I feel Johnson is best suited to a zone based scheme.
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Johnson is not a powerful back by any measure. While he is certainly more than willing to make first contact with a defender; that is not where he wins. As a result short yardage and goal line situations are not going to be his stock and trade in the NFL. As a blocker in pass protection Johnson has plenty room for improvement as well. It will be difficult for him to carve out a role if he doesn’t at least develop as a competent blocker.
At first glance, the Cleveland Browns have quite the crowed backfield. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, both of whom were rookies last season, should enter training camp as the top two running backs on the depth chart. While Crowell certainly flashed potential as a three down back he finish the season marked for stardom. Johnson’s presence on the roster is more of an immediate threat to West than Crowell. Johnson is atleast as good of a receiver as West and he is more effective as a runner between the tackles. Last season, Cleveland appeared to be open to a committee approach to position and Johnson’s selection appears to indicate that that might be the case this season as well. Johnson could very well carve out a nice role in the offense early; especially if the offense is playing catch-up in game and a premium is placed on versatility.
Cleveland’s passing game is going to be a big question mark this upcoming season. If the offense can’t move the ball through the air expect extra men in the box. This could mean an “all hands on deck” scenario where Cleveland rotates all of their backs into the game. In fantasy football players on a team with a crowded backfield could result in constant indecision throughout the year as you set your weekly rosters.
This season Johnson could settle in as a RB3 to RB5 in PPR formats. Crowell and West are two obstacles that won’t be easily overtaken. In addition the volatility of the Cleveland passing game could prove to be a positive or a negative as I described earlier; we will need to wait and see as the season unfolds.
In the long run Johnson should settle in as a low end RB2 or high end RB3 in PPR formats. When you combine Johnson’s versatility as a pass catcher and runner between the tackles it’scould to envision a committee where both Crowell and Johnson are productive. This vision could become a reality as early as this year but I am weary given the current composition of Cleveland’s roster.
NFL Comparison: Giovani Bernard-Lite
Projected Range for Draft
With a current ADP rookie ranking of 13th overall, Duke Johnson seems to garner a late first or early second round pick. As we get closer to the start of the season that figure could move either way as the depth chart crystallizes. The preseason should prove very telling. All things considered I have no hesitation taking him at that price. Duke Johnson has the potential to be a solid (not elite) building block for your fantasy for years to come.