It’s arguable whether or not the Cleveland Browns have a quarterback. It’s not arguable if they have a running back. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West were both more than fine in 2014 and if forced into action as the two main rushers again, they’d do plenty to reward fantasy football owners in 2015.
Crowell and West may not get the chance to do it on their own together, though, as the Browns plucked explosive rookie running back Duke Johnson off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft and have every intention of using him right away. Just how much they’ll use him this season, though, appears open for debate.
Unless, of course, you ask the Browns, themselves.
Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich continues to pour cold water on the notion that Duke Johnson could be a total fiend in fantasy football as a rookie, suggesting that Cleveland still sees the former Miami Hurricane as a “Giovani Bernard-type” player. In that mold, Johnson would be best equipped for a change of pace role, perhaps on passing downs.
That could deliver a sizable hit to Johnson’s upside. Cleveland does seem to envision Johnson as a potential long-term starter, but would prefer his integration into the offense and evolution into that role come gradually.
Their wants and fantasy owners’ needs are very different, but they could meet somewhere in the middle in 2015. One big reason why fantasy owners can’t buy Duke Johnson as a bit player completely is that he just simply is the most talented runner on the roster now. Crowell is a bruiser but he isn’t as skilled of a receiver, isn’t nearly as explosive and also has ball control issues. West has a more finesse game than Crowell, but he’s struggled with interior running, isn’t always the best in pass protection and isn’t quite the athlete Johnson is.
If you’re picking one of the three, the pick is Johnson. Of course, Johnson is still a rookie, so despite the clear talent and athleticism advantages, he could have problems with blocking assignments and ball control, as well. If he doesn’t, though, he’s going to be a steal in fantasy football drafts.
This dude was Miami’s all-time leading rusher. Take that, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis. I mean, just LOOK at what he can do:
Talent aside, the value and upside Duke Johnson provides simply off of his 2015 ADP should be reason enough to take a stab at him as a RB4 or RB5. Isaiah Crowell is going off boards as the proposed starter and he’s not being selected until about round seven on average. Johnson is being taken a full round later in round eight, and sometimes leaking into the ninth or 10th round. Considering you probably have your stud RBs and WRs locked up by that point, he’s got to be one of the top sleeper picks to go after around that range. If you pull the trigger on Duke Johnson in round 8, it’s a low risk/high reward move. If you can wait and still get him one or two rounds later, all the better.
Here’s the kicker: the Browns, they’s gonna run that football. They did last year, and they’ll probably do it even more in 2015. Looking back, Crowell was pretty “meh” as a rookie, and he still finished 2014 as fantasy football’s 28th best running back. West was just four slots back at 32nd overall. Had the corpse of Ben Tate not held them both back for a few weeks to start the year, they both would have been even better.
And they’re not as good as Duke Johnson.
I’m not saying Duke Johnson is the second coming of Jamaal Charles, but the guy is pretty good and he’s on a team that runs the ball a ton. And he’s the best runner of said footballs on said team. In other words, unless you love another sleeper running back in the 8-10 round range, you need to pick up Duke Johnson.