Wednesday, April 24, 2024

FFL: The Breakout Is Coming For Kerryon Johnson

There’s one thing that validates a waiver wire pickup above all else. Production. A player has a big game. Pick him up. But a player steps into a starting role and has a bad game. Eh, don’t pick him up. How about when a player steps into a starting role and has a huge game? Definitely pick him up.

But for that same production that we have hopelessly fallen in love with that, it’s those very same numbers that have doomed us as fantasy owners. In a perfect world, you’ll pick up a player before he blows up and has a huge game. But it doesn’t work like that. You have to pick up the player before he is the player. Yeah, I’m not sure what I just said either.


The Auburn Tiger

Frankly speaking, you probably have no idea who Kerryon Johnson is. The former Auburn Tiger was an absolute stud in college. The 6’0” 212 lbs running back terrorized teams on a nightly basis. He did this while playing in the SEC, the toughest conference in college football.

The Auburn Tigers had a very talented QB in Sophomore Jarrett Stidham, but this was a team built in the trenches. Auburn simply lined up and played power football. This started with the electrifying Kerryon Johnson. In his final year at Auburn, Johnson led the team with 1391 rushing yards and 18 rushing TDs.

Johnson was a fantastic back who picked up steam and boasted his draft stock all throughout the year. He did enough his Junior year to vault him into the 2nd round, as the Detroit Lions swooped him up with the 43rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.


Kerryon Johnson’s Rookie Year…So Far

So the big question remains, why should anyone believe in Kerryon Johnson. Here’s the good news, nobody believes in him yet. Trust me, I know what I’,m saying. But in the NFL, as in sports, talent wins out in the end. And Kerryon Johnson is easily the most talented back on this roster.

Let’s take a look at what makes Kerryon Johnson such a special talent.

Taking a look at when the Lions went up against the almighty New England Patriots in Week 3, Kerryon Johnson put on a clinic. He turned 16 carries into 101 yards en route to becoming the Lions first 100-yard rusher in 70 games. Yes, 70. You read that right.

In this play, we see the elite elusiveness that Johnson possesses. After receiving the handoff from QB Matthew Stafford, Johnson hits the hole hard. He uses his extraordinary vision to locate the hole, and his incredible burst to burst through it. He gets a few yards past the line scrimmage before a Patriots defender is in a good position to tackle him.

Johnson makes a sweet, but subtle juke move to get past him and keeps running uphill. Johnson sees another Patriots defender in good position to tackle him and makes a sick jump cut to avoid the tackler. He then once again uses his incredible burst to keep running before putting his shoulder down to cap off the 13 yard gain.

This play takes place in one of the most important areas of the field, the red zone. Out of the standard I formation, Stafford takes the snap and hands it off to Johnson for an inside run to the left. The Patriots defender #94 blows up the play. He dusts OG Frank Ragnow and gets within inches of Johnson, a tackle would have made it a 5-yard loss on the play.

This is a play that the Patriots should have stymied the Lions for a 5-yard loss. Instead, Johnson sees this coming and makes an incredible jump cut showing off his elusiveness once again. Johnson uses his elite burst to hit the hole hard. He gets a few yards past the line of scrimmage before putting his shoulder down and trucking Patriots S Devin McCourty, showing off his underrated power as a runner.

Johnson turns a play that should be a serious loss into a serious positive gain. It’s especially important that Johnson does this in the red zone, where it’s imperative NFL teams make positive plays.

This play is something the Detroit Lions quite often do out of the shotgun. Johnson’s ability as a downhill runner has been well showcased, but he has the ability to run east-west on draws play is excellent as well. In this play, Johnson receives the handoff and turns the corner behind some very good blocking.

He immediately turns on the jets and shows off his top-end speed. Johnson turns the corner and outruns the Patriots defense for the 1st down. Johnson is more than just shifty, his straight line speed is very impressive.

Kerryon Johnson’s talent is undeniable. His blend of speed-power-agility is of the most elite in the league. Johnson has top end speed, he can get on the edge and burn the defenders. But Johnson possesses perhaps the most important aspect for an RB, elite cutting ability.

Johnson uses his incredible vision to find the holes and his elite cutting ability to make defenders look silly on the regular. When I watched Kerryon Johnson in college only one thing came to mind, Le’Veon Bell. Much like Bell, Johnson is extremely patient, he waits behind his offensive line and lets the hole develop before bursting through for chunk gains.

He may look a bit small, but Johnson possesses immense power. Johnson can lower his shoulder and truck through defenders for those few extra yards. This is something that will be especially important near the goal line and short yard situations. Johnson is a legitimate 3 down back who can run in every which way and is an equally elite receiver out of the backfield.

I know what you’re thinking if Johnson is this mighty and powerful back, why has he yet to break out? Bare with me, we’re getting there.

A New Hope

In the first 3 games, Kerryon Johnson has taken 29 carries into 161 scoreless yards, an elite 5.6 YPC clip. Johnson leads the team in carries, slightly edging out plodding back LeGarrette Blount 29-28. Despite that, Johnson has only one red zone carry to Blount’s four red zone carries.

One thing that’s definite is Johnson has been the most effective RB on this roster. Johnson has averaged 5.6 YPC, while Blount has spewed out a lowly 3.0 YPC. Turning on the tape will show you all you need to know, the shifty Kerryon Johnson has evaded tacklers at will and picked up extra yards play after play, while Blount has been stuffed far too many times.

Johnson also pitched in 10 receptions on 12 targets for 52 yards.That’s good for a 83.3% catch rate with 0 drops. While Johnson cedes much passing down work to 3rd down specialist Theo Riddick, Johnson is an elite pass catcher in his own right.

Johnson has fantastic hands and great YAC ability. In college, Johnson had one drop on 56 catchable targets and broke 15 tackles after the catch. Kerryon Johnson will never be the pass-catching dynamo that Reddick is, but Johnson’s versatility as a runner-receiver will allow him to dominate snaps in the near future.

In 2018 the Lions have whipped together a much-improved offensive. While this line has been inconsistent at times, they were dominant in Week 3. PFF ranked the Lion as the no. 5 offensive line against the Patriots as both a run blocking and pass blocking group. The much-improved blocking has been a welcoming sign for Johson.

In the end, the most concerning aspect of this whole situation circles around the RBBC the Lions have built up. Theo Riddick is a low volume and effective scat back who will get his touches no matter what, but the real issue is LeGarrette Blount.

For whatever reason, the Lions coaching staff seems intent on handing the ball to Blount time and time again. But as the weeks have gone on, Johnson’s touch totals have risen as he has continued to impress. His totals since week 1 are 8 > 13 > 18.

After Kerryon Johnson stepped into the spotlight and dropped 101 yards on the Patriots while levying an eye-popping 6.1 YPC that game, fans are giddy at the thought of the future star RB. Johnson’s workload keeps going out, but Blount is a legitimate concern. The reality however, is that Johnson can do everything Blount can do and more.

Johnson has proven he is a legitimate 3 down back with game-breaking ability. Talent wins out in the NFL. Johnson not only has the most talent in this backfield, but he has been the most effective running back on this roster. It will be very soon that the Lions will hand the reigns of this backfield to the rookie from Auburn.


Fantasy Implications

There’s a 73.9% chance Kerryon Johnson is not owned in a league. Okay not chance, that is the stat from ESPN fantasy football leagues. If for some reason Johnson has been dropped by a manager who grew frustrated with the lack of production from Johnson, swoop him up immediately.

Chances are however, Johnson is on already owned in your fantasy league. And if that is the case you should make a trade for him right now. You will most likely need to give up a quality player after Johnsons’s mini-breakout last week against the Patriots, but trust me, it will be worth it.

Whether it’s next week, the week after that, or the week after that, Kerryon Johnson will be fantasy football’s next breakout star. If your team is struggling, or if it isn’t, make a trade for Johnson now before the time is too late and you miss the train. The Kerryon Express.

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