What could be more fitting than a man named Duke joining the Texans? In a not so surprising move, the Cleveland Browns found the trade partner they were seeking and shipped Johnson off to Houston.
My, what a pricey "satellite" back...
The compensation, however, did lend itself to a few raised eyebrows. John Dorsey (Cleveland GM) was able to flip Duke in exchange for a conditional 4th round 2020 pick that has the potential to become a 3rd round prospect.
To Put that in perspective, the Chicago Bears' return on the Jordan Howard trade last year was a conditional 6th round pick. While the addition of 2nd round rookie Miles Sanders puts a cap on Howard's upside, there is no doubt in my mind the Eagles sought his services to be their primary early down back at time of trade. Whether you like Howard or not, their is no denying his productivity at the pro level. He has finished 9th, 10th, and 18th in fantasy at the RB position through his NFL tenure.
How important is a third round pick?
Houston's willingness to part with valuable draft stock would indicate a belief that Duke johnson can be a powerful asset in their offensive system. The 3rd round in particular has been an area in which gems at the running back position have been unearthed. Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, and Kareem Hunt all were obtained as second day picks. Highly touted 2019 rookies Darrell Henderson and David Montgomery were both snatched in the 3rd round. The price paid for Johnson's 2019 contributions are far past that of an inconsequential depth play for Houston.
Can Lamar Miller and Duke Johnson form a symbiotic relationship?
Lamar Miller may be vanilla, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream will sate a craving in a pinch any day of the week. Duke Johnson will not render Miller a useless bench stash. In fact, I expect Miller's role to remain consistent with the product we have become accustomed to. In 2018 Lamar Miller:
- Only saw a 63.1% opportunity share
- Was fantastic in stacked front situations, averaging 7.5 YPC.
- Generally averaged a respectable 4.2 YPC.
- Was not heavily utilized as a pass catcher, seeing only 35 targets on the season.
- ADOT was a paltry 4.8 yards.
We see some positive trends in these numbers along with some areas that could certainly use some improvement. The caveat here is that they should mesh extremely well with Duke Johnson's skill set. In 2018 Duke Johnson:
- Saw a minor 22.3% of the opportunity share in Cleveland.
- Only managed a 2.0 YPC average against loaded fronts.
- Had a healthy 4.7 YPC average overall, thriving in light carry situations.
- Saw 40 carries vs. 62 receiving targets on the season.
- Averaged a league leading 7.2 yards per target for RB's.
The takeaway here? Miller's strengths are Johnson's weaknesses and vice versa. To add a cherry on top, Miller's 2018 counterpart (Alfred Blue) has relocated to Jacksonville. Blue saw a 40.7% opportunity share in 2018, nearly double Johnson's piece of the pie as a Brown.
Stepping On Keke's toes?
While this may not be universally agreed upon, there is a fair chance that their is some overlap in role between Johnson and 2nd year receiver Keke Coutee. Coutee has often found himself in the chatter among analysts discussing growing and emerging players. Deandre Hopkins himself has been quoted in acknowledging how far Coutee has progressed since his rookie season. No argument here, if Nuk says the kid has potential, I am a believer.
Still, their are some concerns. Coutee only played in 6 games in 2018 due to hamstring ailments. In his first preseason contest on Thursday night, he went down on what looked initially to be a gruesome ankle injury (it has since been declared minor and nothing that should impact his opening day status). These are outliers that will raise some questions in regards to his durability.
On top of the questions on Coutee's longevity, where Miller and Johnson meshed... Coutee and Johnson clash.
- Coutee ran 150 routes out of the slot in 2018.
- Johnson has consistently lobbied coaches for playing time in the slot.
- Will Fuller's injury history could potentially force coutee into the Z receiver position.
- Coutee's average target distance was a mere 5.5 yards.
- Coutee only had 83 air yards on his 28 receptions in 2018 (142nd in the league).
- Coutee makes his money on underneath routes, averaging 7.3 YAC.
It will be interesting to see how these 2 players will coexist. With the compatible receiving attributes, it is reasonable to consider Duke Johnson at the very least a damper on Coutee's upside.
Duke's 2019 Potential Fantasy Impact
It will be repeatedly pointed out that Deshaun Watson does not have a track record of targeting backs in the passing game. While this is undeniably true, he also has not had a stellar pass catching back like Duke Johnson at his disposal in the past. And again... they gave up extremely valuable draft stock to retain Johnson's services!
As usual, Duke Johnson will be a far more useful component in PPR formats. With the Texans poor offensive line play, expect him to be used often as a check down, safety valve for Watson when under pressure. Likely, he will also see his fair share of time split out as a slot receiver.
As mentioned before, Johnson only saw a 22.3% opportunity share in Cleveland, totalling out to 630 scrimmage yards, 47 receptions, and 3 TD's. If we can imagine him seeing a 32.3% opportunity share and an equivalent level of efficiency in 2019, his end line would be 945 yards from scrimmage, 70 receptions, and 4.5 TD's on a 16 game season (191.5 PPR points).
Duke Johnson currently is available in the 13th round of fantasy drafts. A 13th round player with the potential to average 12 PPR points per game is about as good of a deal as you can find. If you are in a deeper PPR league it would be wise to stake your claim at this price tag while you stil can. It will surely surge into the single digit rounds before the start of the season.