Draft or Pass: New Situation, New Offense, Same David Johnson?

We're a few years removed from David Johnson's breakout season and many see it as an inevitability he will return to that level of production. SI Fantasy expert Ben Heisler explores that "inevitability."
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It's never too early to start your fantasy football research, and we here at SI Fantasy want to provide you with the best information possible heading into your drafts. Our "Draft or Pass" video series takes a closer look at a fantasy player that will be debated often leading up to fantasy drafts. Are our hosts targeting this player specifically? Are they avoiding him entirely?

Today's video focuses on Houston Texans RB David Johnson

David Johnson Draft or Pass at current ADP (average draft position): 38 (RB19)

Last year was supposed to be the return to glory days for new Texans RB David Johnson.

An infuriatingly frustrating 2018 season cost Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks his job after just one year. Ahead of 2019, Kliff Kingsbury was brought in with his high-tempo spread offense, paving the way for a new brand of offense in the NFC West.

This was supposed to be music to the ears of David Johnson owners, who, despite finishing as the RB9 in PPR in 2018, felt he was severely underutilized in the offense, primarily as a pass-catcher. After all, this is the same David Johnson who two seasons ago finished as the top PPR running back in all of football, averaging 25.5 PPG and outscoring the second-ranked running back, Ezekiel Elliott, by 82.4 points overall on the season.

With Kingsbury running the show, the Cardinals were expected to be an NFL leader in offensive snaps run, leading the way for Johnson to regain his top-tier RB status playing alongside former Oklahoma standout Kyler Murray in his rookie season.

It didn't happen.

Arizona's snaps per game did improve from 31st to 21st, but Johnson couldn't stay on the field. He'd play in 13 games, rushing just 94 times for 345 yards and caught 36 of 47 passes for 370 yards. He was ultimately passed up for Chase Edmonds and later Kenyon Drake, now the solidified number one starter in the Cardinals backfield.

Johnson has a fresh start in Houston after being traded to the Texans for stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and draft picks. With Carlos Hyde now a member of the Seattle Seahawks, Johnson enters the season as the top running back on the depth chart, with the talented and undervalued Duke Johnson behind him.

The most pressing issues for David Johnson owners are two-fold.

  1. Can he stay healthy?
  2. If yes, will the Texans similarly deploy him to how he was initially used in Arizona as a dual-threat runner and receiver?

Over at State of the Texans, Patrick D. Starr discussed how Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly plans to incorporate David Johnson and Duke Johnson into the mix:

I think it opens up the play-calling. You're not limited by a guy's ability to only run the ball or only catch the ball... When you have guys that are versatile and are both a vital running threat, a good receiving threat. It allows you to open up and be creative and find different ways to get guys the ball in space and do some good things.

In a 12-team PPR league, Johnson's current ADP of 38 (RB19) lands him as the projected number two pick in the fourth round. With Hyde out of the mix, Houston's options in the running game are significantly more versatile as pass-catching targets, as Hyde only contributed ten receptions in the passing game. With a full offseason in Houston, Duke Johnson isn't going anywhere, and even if David Johnson can remain on the field, this feels like more of a timeshare situation. David can be the early-down back, and if the Texans recognize his skillset, they may move him to the slot on third down when Duke Johnson likely sees the field.

Even with the opportunity to be the lead back, I don't want to risk the draft capital for David Johnson this early based on his injury history and competition for passing targets in the backfield. I would be passing on David Johnson at his current ADP.