The Detroit Lions are one of the most inept teams in the NFL at running the football. Since they lost Reggie Bush in 2015, they’ve employed a stable of running backs who can only catch (Theo Riddick), shifty oft-injured speedsters that collapse in a strong breeze (Ameer Abdullah) and fullbacks masquerading as tailbacks (Zach Zenner, Joique Bell). Defying all expectations, the Lions did the smart thing and took a talented running back high, in Kerryon Johnson. But, they paired him with LeGarrette Blount. Is Johnson worth looking at in your fantasy football drafts?
Kerryon Johnson, Running Back, Round 2
Kerryon Johnson is extremely athletic, if a bit small, player who the Lions snagged to complement their stable of backs. Now, his measurables are similar to guys who went later in past drafts. Aaron Jones (round five), Buck Allen (round four) and Marlon Mack (round four) are all recent comparisons for Johnson’s measurables. Clearly, the Lions saw something in him that wasn’t seen in the other guys. There’s one comparable that gives me hope for Johnson’s prospects—my friend and yours—Alvin Kamara, who went in the second round to the Saints last season in a trade up with the 49ers.
Johnson is strong and elusive more than he is fast, and he invites and fights through contact. That’s fine if you’re built like his teammate, LeGarrette Blount, but the smaller Johnson is inviting injury in the NFL. In college, he had more pinball in him than a run-down bowling alley struggling to stay relevant in the 1990s, but he’s a bit small for that to work in the NFL. He lacks patience and has trouble missing free runners that end up in the backfield. Still, he has the fight you want to see from a back; he’s always churning for a couple extra yards on every run.
The downside for 2018? That backfield is looking to be the same convoluted mess that it was last season. He will get the work outside the red zone, when the field is open (Ameer Abdullah last year), but Theo Riddick will handle the passing downs (…Theo Riddick last year), with LeGarrette Blount getting the short-yardage and goal-line runs (a role that didn’t exist last year because Riddick was the ten zone and goal-line back).
Johnson is extremely talented, and despite being smaller than you want, has the attributes to develop into a decent quality back in the NFL. Unfortunately, there’s too much going on in the Detroit backfield for him to have early season viability. He’s definitely a second half of the draft stash-and-hold, as Blount has been awful outside of Bill Belichick’s loving embrace. Once Blount takes a back seat (provided he doesn’t punch Johnson), Johnson should solidify that role. Ameer Abdullah also exists, but the comma in this sentence tackled him. He is not a threat.