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Kerryon Johnson: From Fantasy Value to Must Draft

It was a frustrating season for Kerryon Johnson’s fantasy owners in 2018, forced to watch a plodding and ineffective LeGarrette Blount steal carries from the electric rookie. And here we go again in 2019 — Blount gone, replaced by C.J. Anderson, another big runner with designs on destroying your fantasy dreams.

But is Anderson’s addition really a disaster for Johnson’s redraft and bestball value? Or does it simply make him an even bigger steal?

Slashing Prices on Sophmores

The market reacted with pessimism when the Lions signed Anderson on April 1st.
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Johnson went from an overall ADP of 35.1, and a positional ADP of 17 in the month of March to averages of 39.3 and 20 in April, respectively. And it appears that we have yet to bottom out — Johnson’s stock is still trending downward.

Everyone is jumping off the train, but these newfound savings makes it the perfect time to start buying in bulk.

Keep Calm and Kerryon

I’m not going to argue that Anderson’s arrival doesn’t hurt Johnson to some degree. But Detroit was always going to sign someone, and the arrival of a 28-year-old on his fourth team in the last three seasons is not the worst-case scenario for his fantasy value.

Johnson was probably never going to get 300-plus touches in 2019, yet the market is reacting as if something’s been taken from him. Even if we see a continuation of his rookie workload, he’s a steal early in the fourth round of fantasy drafts.
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In his rookie year, Johnson was on pace for:

  • 189 rushes and 1,026 yards. which would have been 10th best among all running backs.
  • 62 targets and 341 receiving yards, which would have ranked 20th
  • 226 fantasy points (PPR), a pace which would have made him the RB13 last year

All that with what was was with a tepid start of five and eight carries over his first two professional games. Over the next half-season’s worth of games, Johnson was on pace for 246 fantasy points.
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Johnson produced at that pace with Blount in the lineup. So unless you think Anderson is in for a considerably bigger rushing role than Blount had last year (154 attempts), a 250-point season is is well within the range of outcomes for Johnson in 2019.

Is that a possibility? Other than his 245-carry 2017, Anderson has carry totals of 179, 152, 110 (seven games), and 67 (in nine games last year) since his sophomore season. At 28, he’s not quite at the age where RBs fall off the cliff, but he’s not far off.
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Johnson, meanwhile, was one of the most effective backs in the league in 2018:

  • His 5.4 yards per carry ranked third among all RBs with at least 100 attempts
  • His rushing points over expectation (ruFPOE) of 18.6 was 13th-best among all RBs

I get that they may not want to overwork the sophomore to the tune of 300 touches, but it would also be insane to give Anderson north of 160 carries considering that the Lions spent a second-round pick on Johnson, who went ahead and exceeded expectations as a rookie.

Rank ‘Em

The RotoViz redraft rankings are live, and our group views Johnson as a solid value — his overall rank of 34 is beating his current ADP by more than five slots in the third round.
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Blair Andrews smells what I’m cooking, aggressively ranking Johnson at 27, just outside of the second round.

It’s easy to forget that Johnson is just a baby. At a draft age of 20.5, he was the second-youngest RB in the class. He looked phenomenal playing against men as a rookie, and there’s room for improvement in year two.

Conclusion

Johnson was one of my favorite RB prospects in a loaded class and immediately produced at borderline RB1 pace.

While I’m not saying he’s the reason why, we know that the Detroit offense was considerably worse without the rookie back in the lineup, scoring 28 percent fewer points per drive after he was injured.
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The Lions have every motivation to get Johnson heavily involved in the offense. He was a workhorse in college, so we know he can handle the load if things break right.
With a safe floor and immense upside, I’ll be heavily invested on Johnson in 2019.

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