Fantasy Fallout: David Johnson in HOU


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Fantasy Fallout: David Johnson in HOU

Generally speaking, I try to give NFL head coaches and GMs the benefit of the doubt. Despite what Twitter may have you believe, 90% of analysts do not know more than the people who spend every day of their lives managing and coaching teams… unless we’re talking about Bill O’Brien. In one of the most egregious trades in sports history, O’Brien decided to deal All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (and a 4th-round pick!) to Arizona for David Johnson and the Cardinals 2nd- and 4th-round picks in 2020.

Remember when you could “force” trades in Madden’s franchise mode? Force-trading Randy Moss on to the Falcons with Michael Vick was always my move. This was basically one of those trades.

Make sure you check out how Hopkins’ addition helps fuel Kyler Murray’s accession in 2020 (insert link) but we’ll discuss how this trade impacts Johnson’s fantasy value in Houston and whether or not Kenyan Drake is a bonafide RB1 with Arizona in this space.

D.J. To Houston

After two of his past 3 seasons have been cut short due to injury, David Johnson joins the Texans with a lot more questions than answers on his fantasy outlook. D.J. will turn 29 in December. He joins a directionless team with only Deshaun Watson left to bail out O’Brien. And, the last time we saw D.J. on the field, he looked like a shell of his former self.

Even if we guaranteed Johnson will return to his previous form, he’s still not an ideal back for the Texans’ scheme. O’Brien rarely ran Carlos Hyde off-tackle last year, instead opting to slam Hyde up the middle (in between or behind the guards) on a whopping 76% of his carries. If this type of usage continues in 2020 for Johnson, he’ll likely be woefully inefficient because he is a far worse interior runner than Hyde. Since 2016, Johnson has averaged a putrid 3.87 yards per carry on inside runs (goal-line carries excluded). This ranks 43rd-of-57 qualifying running backs in this span. Last year, Hyde averaged a modest 4.33 yards per carry on his interior totes.

What’s more, Johnson especially doesn’t mesh with Deshaun Watson’s playing style. Including Duke Johnson, the Texans now have two running backs that are best-suited as receiving specialists out there with a quarterback that rarely checks the ball down. Because he’s always looking to aggressively push the ball downfield or scramble when the play breaks down, Watson only targeted his running backs on 14.7% of his throws last year. That was the third-lowest rate in the NFL behind only Jared Goff (10%) and Ryan Tannehill (12.6%).

Johnson’s 2016 season will always have a special place in fantasy football history, but he’s now four years removed from his RB1 finish (411 PPR points). With his health and fit in Houston in question, we are not expecting a big bounceback for D.J. in 2020.

Kenyan Drake’s Big Chance

The best news of the Johnson-to-Houston trade is that it puts Kenyan Drake squarely on the RB1 (top-12) radar for redraft leagues. The Cardinals kept Drake around for 2020 by placing the transition tag on him (worth $8.5M). After calling Drake “a perfect fit for our offense” at the NFL Combine, this payday is another clear sign that HC Kliff Kingsbury loves Drake.

What makes Drake’s 2020 projection particularly appealing is the way Kingsbury used him last year. Because Arizona runs a spread- and shotgun-based scheme, Drake routinely faced lighter defensive fronts than most backs in the NFL. From Weeks 9-17, Drake was 2nd among all running backs in carries out of shotgun (97). As a result, Drake saw eight or more defenders in the box on just 8% of his carries in Arizona -- which would have been the 3rd-lowest rate in the NFL over the full season.

Kingsbury also properly used Drake as an off-tackle runner, allowing Drake to use his quickness and agility to get to the edge and beat second-level defenders. Last year, 52% of Drake’s carries went off-tackle (10th-highest rate) and the results were very impressive. Drake averaged 5.5 yards per rush (5th-best) and earned a first down on a league-high 35% of his off-tackle carries.

For fantasy, Drake was a borderline league-winner down the stretch run. In eight starts with the Cardinals, Drake was the RB4 in PPR points (19.9 per game), he was 5th in snaps played, 6th in rushing yards (80.4 per game), and 15th in targets at the position (4.4 per game). Drake had a few monster games that helped spike his scoring totals, but he was still fairly consistent overall, finishing as a RB2 or better (top-24) in 6-of-8 games.

With only Chase Edmonds behind him on the depth chart, Drake is a locked-in workhorse back on an offense that is set to explode with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. Still only 26-years-old and with just 456 career totes on his odometer, Drake is entering the prime of his career. I’ll be aggressively targeting Drake on my best-ball teams.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.