Koh Knows: Can Duke Johnson be a fantasy king?

I'll be honest, I too wrote off Duke Johnson as a viable fantasy starter.

The storylines all offseason centered around Cleveland's revamped offensive line and how Hue Jackson was about to unleash Isaiah Crowell.

After running for a robust 4.8 yards per carry in 2016, the Crow was supposed to fly free ... alas through four games in 2017, the Crow has crash landed, shattering the hopes and dreams of those who invested an early-round draft pick. Crowell is averaging a career-low 2.9 yards per carry, has failed to fall into the end zone and has looked utterly indecisive running the ball.

At the same time, Duke Johnson was supposedly converting to wideout and was reportedly a candidate to start as a slot receiver for the Browns. Week 1 came around and it appeared that was where Duke would live as he took 89 percent of his snaps in the slot and literally ZERO snaps lined up in the backfield. ZERO.

I don't know what changed but something did and the fantasy fortunes for the former Miami Hurricane quickly trended up ... even if few were paying attention. But now I'm eyes wide open on Woke Johnson, baby.


There's an ancient Korean proverb that says, "Sometimes one must be blind to see clearly ... "

No, I'm just kidding, I just totally made that up but it sounds cool. The point being, let's take a blind look at two pass-catching running backs and compare the two without all the preconceived notions you might have looking at the names involved.

Duke Johnson currently sits as the RB16 in PPR formats and is outscoring Christian McCaffrey through four games. And forget fantasy for a second, Duke compares favorably to Run CMC in damn near every metric you want to use despite playing a much tougher schedule. It's why I believe Johnson's emergence is the real deal.


Like David Bowie said, turn and face the strange. Because per NextGenStats, after Johnson took literally zero snaps out of the backfield in Week 1, over his past three games, Duke has seen a whopping 92 percent of his snaps come as a running back in the backfield.

The results have been terrific as Johnson has racked up back-to-back 20-point performances in PPR and even in standard he's put up consecutive double-digit scoring efforts and is averaging an impressive 12.1 fantasy points per game over his last three games.

And on a team bereft of playmakers, Johnson has provided a much-needed spark busting out explosive plays (runs of 10-plus, receptions of 20-plus) at a surprising rate. He's racked up five explosive plays already despite touching the ball just 30 times total.

It doesn't sound like much on the surface, but that explosive play per touch rate of 0.16 is one of the best in the NFL and on par with what Jordan Howard and Ezekiel Elliott did last year. Oh by the way, it's a similar rate to what Duke himself put up last year. The number of big plays he's connecting on is no fluke.


Per AirYards.com, Duke leads all running backs in air yards and his 129 yards after the catch is good for ninth-best for his position group, a hair better than the 126 yards posted by Kareem Hunt.

If you're not familiar with air yards, think about it this way. If Duke gets two targets for 25 air yards each and catches just one, that's a 25-yard gain. He'd have to catch five checkdowns that travel just five air yards each. You want air yards because it gives the player a chance to make big, chunk plays (like this sick one-handed grab).

Meanwhile, his yards after the catch stats that indicate even on those aforementioned checkdowns, Duke has the ability to generate yards on his own which is great for fantasy but also extremely important in real-life football as it helps keeps the offense in manageable down and distance situations in addition to keeping drives alive.


Given how uncomfortable Crowell has looked through four games it should be no surprise that Duke has seen his targets and touches increase in every game, highlighted by his 10-target, 13-touch performance in Week 4 totaling 60 scrimmage yards and a score against a tough Cincy defense.

Will Johnson supplant the Crow as the starter? Well, I wouldn't go that far as Duke doesn't necessarily profile as an every-down back. That being said, given Cleveland's roster and the production and plays Duke continues to make, it'd be madness if Hue Jackson and company didn't dial up number 29 more in the coming weeks.

I would anticipate Johnson seeing 12-20 touches a game, providing an excellent PPR floor to go along with a 20-point ceiling each week. He's an every-week flex play in PPR period and in deeper leagues, having him during these bye weeks will be a relief. But even in standard-scoring leagues, given what we're seeing on tape and in the box score, I'm all in on Woke Johnson as a flex play there as well.

If he's on waivers, pick him up. If you can snake his services in a trade for a receiver like Marvin Jones, Eric Decker or Jeremy Maclin, I'd throw it out there and see if you can pull it off.


» I don't know where I've been but I just discovered Leigh Cowart who writes a column for Deadspin called Meat Sack which is advertised as "a guide to sports-related body horror." The content as you can imagine is uh ... not for polite conversation but my god, some of these articles are absolutely hysterical in a totally uncomfortable way. Worth the read but probably when you're not at work ... or at least not at a workplace where they can see your screen.

» Daniel Hartman is why the internet is awesome. It's just some rand-o guy catching apples with his mouth. Who the hell thinks of doing this stuff and how has this guy not blown out multiple teeth??!?!

» Finally, bless you Andy Reid for doing what you do and mismanaging the clock in late-game situations. On Monday night, for some reason, Reid decided to have Alex Smith spike the ball with more than 10 seconds left on the game clock. If he had his wits about him, Reid could have had his quarterback spike the ball with three seconds on the clock so that the game-winning field goal would have ended the game. Instead, we got one extra kickoff to attempt followed by a bunch of laterals from Washington that then led to a fumble that led to a Kansas City recovery for a touchdown. A TOTALLY UNNECESSARY eight fantasy points for the Chiefs defense which led to me unabashedly screaming and dancing around my house as I pulled off one of the most miraculous wins in fantasy history.

James D. Koh is an anchor and host for NFL Network. He is also a host of the NFL Fantasy Live Podcast and a guest columnist for the NFL fantasy football editorial staff. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh to tell him how much of an idiot he is for writing this column.

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