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Duke Johnson to Houston - Fantasy Impact

Running back Duke Johnson was not happy when the Browns signed Kareem Hunt. He had been vocal about wanting out of Cleveland since the spring, especially after seeing his usage go down in 2018.

In the past, that may have not seemed like an odd request. This year, though, the Browns were the darlings of the offseason and are considered the hottest team in the league in terms of buzz and promise. But Johnson publicly stated he felt unwanted.

The Browns openly maintained that Johnson remained a big part of their plans for the 2019 season. He probably was, until Hunt returned, and it’s apparent that Johnson likely did not want to be considered a stopgap. So on Thursday, the Browns granted Johnson’s wish, trading him to Houston for a draft choice in 2020.

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The Duke Now a Lucky Texan

Earlier this week, I had written about how the sudden axing of D’Onta Foreman did not mean that Lamar Miller’s Fantasy value or appeal was going to change in a major way because Foreman was gone. I only considered Miller an RB3. This move confirms that Miller isn’t going to be much different production-wise than he was last year, and it could even put a slight dent in his value.

Miller will still be the lead runner in Houston, but Johnson can now share some carries to ensure he does not get overworked, and he will certainly get some significant field time for the Texans to utilize him as a receiver out of the backfield. Houston did not acquire Johnson to simply use him as a backup. He gives them an added dimension at RB that they have been missing.

Miller has never caught more than 36 passes in his three seasons as a Texan, and only had 25 receptions in 2018. Johnson has two 60-plus reception seasons to his credit in four years and his 47 catches in 2018 were a career-low. He has the receiving skill set that Miller has lacked, and that will demand him being a notable complement to Miller.

Having Johnson in the mix now could mean a reduction in field time for Miller. The move should also boost Johnson’s appeal again, most importantly in PPR formats. This trade is another further statement that Miller is no better than an RB3 in Fantasy. Meanwhile, Johnson appears to be back in the conversation at least as a key reserve in PPR leagues.

Miller might not carry the ball more than 200 times this season with Johnson eating into some of his reps. That will likely mean he gets nowhere close to 1,000 rushing yards, and as we have seen, he is not much of a threat to score more than five or six times on the ground.

Meanwhile, Johnson gives Deshaun Watson a real true pass receiving threat at RB  for the first time in his career. When you consider the shaky Houston offensive line may only be slightly improved from last year, that will be an important piece for the Texans QB to have. He can counter a strong pass rush with screens and flat passes to a guy like Johnson.

The Texans clearly feature DeAndre Hopkins in the passing game, and Will Fuller and Keke Coutee can complement him well as speed and dependable WRs, respectively. Johnson adds more diversity to the passing game and challenges defenses even more when there are now four playmakers in the passing game. The Texans can also keep defenses off balance when they hand the ball to Johnson out of passing sets.

Johnson could get back to carrying the ball about 70 times this year after being reduced to a career-low 40 attempts last year. A minimum total of 55 to 60 catches seems to be in the forecast as well now. But Johnson has only scored more than three total TDs in a season just once, and neither of the Houston RBs appear to be true threats near the goal line. That fact does prevent Johnson from being a true Fantasy RB3. Houston was the fourth-worst team in red-zone scoring last year and this trade did not do much to help that outlook. You should also regard kicker Kaimi Fairbairn highly at his position when you get to that point of the draft.

I moved Johnson to 46th in my updated PPR rankings on RotoBaller, a 16-spot jump from where he was previously. Miller sits at 27th.


Where Does Cleveland's Backfield Stand?

The Browns are now left without a real pass-catching threat from their backfield. Nick Chubb caught 20 passes last year, and can not be expected to haul in more than 30 at best. Once Kareem Hunt returns in the second half of the season, he should assume the role of top RB receiver and handcuff.

To open the season, though, Chubb should be a real workhorse for a rapidly improving offense. He’ll be the unquestioned finisher near the goal line for the first half of the schedule. Dontrelle Hilliard, an undrafted free agent last year, now seems to be the primary backup to Chubb for the season’s first half. He is solidly built and quick, but it would not be surprising to see the Browns bring on another RB for further depth.

Chubb should still be drafted as a back-end RB1. It would be smart for Cleveland to add another RB as Hunt may be an injury and conditioning risk when he finally returns to action in the second half of the season.

The Browns may not need a pass-catching RB in a big way, as they now have a receiving crew that features Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and David Njoku. The Texans lack an impact TE and one of their WRs (Fuller) is a big injury risk. So adding another receiving playmaker made sense for them and puts Johnson in a situation where he will be more of a key cog in the offense.

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