Why Duke Johnson Is Finding Fantasy Football Success in Post-Hue Jackson Era

by Matthew M. Stevens ·

Receivers dominated the Week 9 Underworld waiver wire, but this week running backs demand fantasy football attention.

After Hue Jackson condemned him to irrelevance in the final rendition of his offense, Duke Johnson showed why he deserves a bigger opportunity share after his Week 9 performance. And while Johnson and Elijah McGuire impact the passing game more than the running game, Rashaad Penny brings the complete skill set of a three-down back.

Duke Johnson Rising Post-Hue Jackson

Duke Johnson caught every ball thrown his way and made the most of it by scoring two touchdowns and recording 22 Yards Created. While he had one carry, Johnson’s nine receptions on nine targets and 78 receiving yards were all team highs, and the nine receptions topped Jarvis Landry’s seven. Baker Mayfield and the rest of Cleveland’s young receiving corps struggle to find chemistry and consistency, but Johnson offers a rock solid target coming out of the backfield. His proficiency adds another dimension to the Browns offense while Nick Chubb plays the grinder role and doesn’t see many targets.

It’s bewildering that Jackson chose not to feature Johnson more in the passing game. He’d previously not seen more than six targets or caught more than four passes in a game this season. A proven pass-catcher at the college level, his College YPC (6.8) and College Target Share (14.8-percent) both rank in the 90th-percentile or above.

Furthermore, he’s demonstrated that same ability throughout his pro career. From 2015-2017, he ranked first among running backs in targets (242), receptions (189) and receiving yards (1,742). He boasts a 76.3-percent catch rate, and his 2.00 Yards Created Per Carry rank No. 3. To shine more light on his efficiency, Johnson’s Premium Production (+36.6) and yards per touch (7.6) both rank in the top-five.

With interim coach Greg Williams’ willingness to lean on Johnson, his rest-of-season value skyrockets, especially in PPR formats. His ownership percentage is a bit high, but he’s still available in half of all leagues.

Elijah McGuire Finds His Footing

Savvy readers of the Week 9 edition of Tomorrow’s Newspaper stashed Elijah McGuire before his return. Coming off a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, McGuire made an immediate impact in filling Bilal Powell‘s old role. Targeted five times, he caught three passes for 37 yards and adding seven carries for 30 yards. With his insertion into the lineup, substitute Trenton Cannon all but disappeared. The rookie had one catch for 15 yards.

Isaiah Crowell keeps the lead dog role for now, but McGuire’s involvement in the passing game is secure considering Crowell’s receiving line this season (11-93-0). McGuire, however, sports a 15.4-percent College Target Share which ranks in the 93rd-percentile. In 2017 he caught 17 passes for 177 yards (10.4 AVG) and a TD on a limited 24.6-percent Opportunity Share. That came despite a three-way time share with Crowell and Powell.

Elijah McGuire Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

On paper, Crowell appears to be an efficient runner. But take away his Yards Created in Week 1 (100) and Week 5 (147) and his next best mark in that category is 18 yards. In Weeks 1 and 5, respectively, he had long runs of 62 and 77 yards which help mask his questionable overall efficiency. His +1.3 Premium Production shows that Crowell doesn’t perform at the level of his peers in similar situations, and his 4.1 True Yards Per Carry rank No. 28. Crowell thrived on the two aforementioned big games and performed at a pedestrian level in every other game this season. Outside of Weeks 1 and 5, he’s scored more than seven fantasy points once. Three of his five touchdowns came in those games.

Rashaad Penny Now or Never

Rashaad Penny becomes an interesting stash with Chris Carson (thigh, hip) banged up. The first-round pick out of San Diego State hasn’t seen more than 10 carries or four targets in a game this season and didn’t play a snap in Week 8. The Seahawks featured him on the opening drive in Week 9 but he finished with seven touches even though Carson missed the second half.

Given Carson’s injury history – a broken leg limited him to four games in 2017 – and Seattle’s penchant to run the football, Penny needs to be owned. The Seahawks’ 254 rush attempts rank No. 4 (tied with San Francisco) in the NFL. Predicting coach Pete Carroll’s thinking is impossible, but he’s shown before that he’ll ride the hot hand. If Penny can work his way into Carroll’s good graces big games loom for the rookie.

While Seattle seems content to feature backup Mike Davis in Carson’s absence, it’s the younger Penny who should fill that role based on his advanced stats and metrics profile. Penny’s College Dominator Rating of 50.1-percent ranks in the 98th-percentile, and his College YPC (7.8) ranks in the 97th-percentile. At 5-11, 220-pounds, Penny’s 111.2 (92nd percentile) Speed Score reflects an ideal combination of size and speed for an NFL back. At San Diego State, he posted impressive numbers, eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards and 10 scores in 2016 and 2017. In his final collegiate season, Penny showed off his all-purpose skillset by rushing for over 2,000 yards, scoring an eye-popping 23 touchdowns, and another 19 receptions for 135 yards and two scores. It’s clear Penny is cut out to be a bell cow back, but he needs the chance to prove it.