We're still waiting for Duke Johnson to reach his potential. Only once last year did he tally over 100 total yards, with four times over 75 total yards. He scored one touchdown. His numbers across the board declined from Year 1 to Year 2. So why might it change in Year 3? By the looks of things, coach Hue Jackson still has plans to use Johnson "everywhere," which could mean a lot of receptions, among other stats. The Browns also improved their offensive line, which could help Johnson out a lot on the handoffs and screen passes he does get. Of course, he still will see his role will continue to get cut into by Isaiah Crowell, who will also benefit from the Browns' O-line and short-area passing game. Until Johnson breaks out, which might not fully happen unless Crowell misses extensive playing time, he's really a late-round snag as a catch-heavy running back who can provide Fantasy depth. That's why you should expect to see him get taken with a late-round pick.
Johnson rushed one time for five yards and caught his only target for nine yards during Thursday's preseason win over the Saints. Although he was quiet in Cleveland's first preseason game, Johnson has been building up hype in training camp, especially as a receiver. Coach Hue Jackson has said he envisions using him as a slot receiver, as well as in the backfield. Most of Johnson's fantasy value comes from his ability to catch passes, so if Jackson utilizes him like he wants to, the third-year pro could become extremely valuable in PPR leagues.
Browns wide receivers coach Al Saunders compared Johnson to the queen on a chess board, The Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich reports. Already locked in as the Browns' top pass-catching back after hauling in 61 and 53 balls his first two seasons, Johnson now is expected to get more playing time from the slot, which will allow the Browns to keep both him and Isaiah Crowell on the field. Given that he'll probably be in the backfield on passing downs, the extent of Johnson's slot role may be a bit overstated on the training-camp hype circuit. It's still a development worth watching in the preseason, particularly as it pertains to PPR formats.
Johnson is the top candidate to fill the Browns' starting slot receiver position, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports. Johnson is officially designated as a running back, but with Isaiah Crowell atop the depth chart there, his versatility coud allow him to see the field elsewhere. With 114 receptions for 1,048 yards through his first two seasons, Johnson has proven plenty capable as a pass catcher, and the Browns have a vacancy in the slot following the offseason depature of Andrew Hawkins. With the expectation that Johnson could start at receiver, his fantasy value figures to notice a bump, even if it ends up resulting in fewer carries.
Johnson could take on a larger role in the offense this season, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. "He's hungry," running back coach Kirby Wilson noted. "He's very knowledgable. He's a great worker. He's committed to being the best that he can be. He's one of our better leaders and one of our better playmakers. So we expect big things from him starting in training camp." Johnson has been a decent backup through his first two seasons in the league but will look to make the leap this season, playing second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell. If he can continue to develop his raw abilities behind a revamped Browns offensive line, the 23-year-old could be primed for career numbers across the board. With very little competition in the backfield this offseason, Johnson will ultimately be in control of how many reps he gets with the first-team offense.
Johnson rushed once for four yards during Sunday's season finale versus the Steelers. Johnson was limited by an ankle injury and ended up playing just four snaps in the last game of the season. Still, it was a productive year for the 23-year-old, almost duplicating his rookie year by catching 53 passes for 514 yards out of the backfield. He didn't see as many rush attempts, but his 4.9 yards per carry would've ranked seventh among NFL running backs if he were qualified. Assuming Isaiah Crowell -- who is a restricted free agent -- is back in 2017, Johnson will assume his role as a pass-catching, third-down back once again.
|* indicates player did not play that week|
|WK||DATE||OPP||OPP RANK||OPP FPTS|
|5||10/08||New York Jets||15||17.00|
|13||12/03||@Los Angeles Chargers||27||19.88|
|14||12/10||Green Bay Packers||11||15.42|
|3 Year Avg||88||368||0||57||524||1||94|