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My Favorite Dynasty Buy Low – Duke Johnson

This post is part of a series of articles where various RotoViz writers name their favorite buy low for dynasty fantasy football, with a look at the 2016 NFL season and beyond. At the conclusion of the series, the authors will get together to rank the various nominations in one final post. In this installment, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot discusses his pick, Duke Johnson.

Let me begin this write-up by acknowledging that Duke Johnson isn’t really what people think of when they think of a buy-low. Buy-low candidates are usually cheap to acquire and can be had as throw-ins in larger deals. Duke caught 61 passes as a rookie, and it’s reasonable to assume his owners are aware of that, so it would probably cost around a mid-to-late first round rookie pick to acquire him. At that price, it’s fair to wonder if you’re actually buying “low.” I believe you would be. Let me explain.

Duke’s rookie season was probably his floor

We know Duke had a solid rookie year. He caught 61 passes and had over 900 yards from scrimmage. He finished as the seasonal RB24, averaging 10.3 ppr points per game. Now take a look at Cleveland’s running back snap report:

Duke Johnson Snap Report

Duke did all that and only played half of his team’s offensive snaps. If we assume that at the very least, his snap share doesn’t decrease next year, it seems reasonable to pencil him in for a minimum 60 catches and 900 total yards again. You can live with that if you’re paying a late first for him.

We’re not done with the blindingly obvious analysis yet. Duke scores more fantasy points when he gets more passing targets:

Duke Johnson target splits 3

In the four games he had more than six targets, Duke had nearly a 1,000 yard receiving pace. Does that sound like someone you’d want on your team?

We might not fully appreciate how high his ceiling is

Looking at the Similarity Scores App, here is the N+1 season for running backs similar to Duke:

Duke Johnson 2016 yoy plot

Career seasons from Devonta Freeman, Darren McFadden, and Ray Rice are three of the first four comps. That’s encouraging. His 2016 projection also reflects the possibility of a breakout season, with a high of 15.5 ppr points per game:

Duke Johnson 2016 projection

Another note on Duke’s ceiling – he might be due for some touchdown regression. He only found the end zone twice this year, so almost all of his fantasy scoring came from yards and receptions.

Duke is a very efficient receiver

Duke Johnson Receiving FPOE

In the Fantasy Efficiency App, reFPOEPT stands for receiving fantasy points over expectation per target, and it measures how much value a receiver added over a baseline points expectation. Duke added 0.37 points per target. That’s better than many other receiving backs, including Theo Riddick (0.34), Matt Forte (0.32), Shane Vereen (0.26), and Devonta Freeman (0.2). It’s also really close to Le’Veon Bell’s 2014 season (0.4), and not far behind receiving ace Danny Woodhead’s 2015 season (0.44). Circling back to the touchdown regression point – everyone mentioned caught more than two touchdowns. There’s a good chance that if regression hits, Duke’s reFPOEPT goes up as well, and we start thinking of him as one of the elite running back pass-catchers.

Cleveland’s offense sucked last year and can probably only get better

Note Cleveland’s proximity to dead last in points-per-drive:1

CLE ppd

HUE-PER DRIVES THE BOAT, CHIEF

I don’t want to get too far into any “here’s why Coach X is good for Player Y” analysis, but I will say that Hue Jackson: A) loves to throw to running backs, and B) can’t hurt Cleveland’s offense. Over 20 percent of Cincinnati’s targets went to running backs each of the past two years. And he’s not fucking around with a coordinator either – he plans on calling his own plays.

Conclusion

Duke is a bit of an enigma at running back since so much of his production comes from receptions. About 77 percent of his fantasy points came in the passing game. This gives him a level of safety that is still undervalued. If you can pry him away from his owner for a late first or similar value, then you’re basically paying for his floor and getting a discount on his ceiling. The formula is really simple: high floor + high ceiling + middling cost = great buy-low candidate. I’ll be making him a target wherever his owner is interested in selling him.

  1. per the NFL Drive App  (back)

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