TSO Report: Cleveland Browns RB - Duke Johnson

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Duke Johnson

Height: 5'9"

Weight:  210 LBS

College: Miami

Drafted: 3rd Round, 77th Overall by Cleveland in 2015

Experience: 2nd Season

2015 Season Stats: 104 Att, 379 Yards, 3.6 YPC, 0 TD, 61 Rec, 534 Yards, 2 TD

Talent:

Trivia Question - Who is the Miami Hurricanes all-time leading rusher?

If you guessed Duke Johnson you would be correct. That's just one of many records Duke Johnson Jr. holds at "The U", ahead of NFL greats: Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Lamar Miller. Clearly the little man has a big game.

In his rookie season, Duke Johnson made an immediate impact in the passing game. Johnson finished with 61 receptions, good for 2nd among rookies, trailing only Amari Cooper. Johnson is a mismatch verse any linebacker and Cleveland exploited this many times. Johnson has the special ability to be a receiver out of the backfield to all levels of the field. He's not just a swing pass or dump down back. He can break the ankles of the defender on intermediate route concepts or get on top of the D running a wheel route. He's displayed this ability both at the University of Miami and in Cleveland this past year.

Between the tackles Johnson is a shifty runner that typically stays within the play design. His power is a little underwhelming but he is more than willing to put his head down and get the 3 available yards rather than dancing or stopping his feel behind the line of scrimmage looking for the big play. Johnson doesn't run with much power but when he's able build some momentum his low pad level and impressive acceleration and burst allows him to get the extra yard or so. Due to his slender size and build Johnson will likely have durability concerns throughout his career. He broke his ankle as a sophomore in college and has been nicked up plenty of other times along the way.

Johnson's advanced receiving skills will keep him in the league for a very long time and in certain spread schemes he can profile as an every down back. Gio Bernard is the most common comparison you'll hear but I believe he can develop into the type of player Reggie Bush was in Detroit. In 2013, Bush had 1,006 rushing yards and 506 receiving yards to go along with 7 TD, Finishing up as RB 11 in standard scoring.

Situation:

The Browns hired Hue Jackson this offseason and boy does he have his hands full. The cast of characters Jackson has to work with is much different than what was around in 2015. Johnny Manziel's high profile departure highlights the exodus. Following Manziel on the offensive side of the ball were talented lineman Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack. Both signed lucrative 5-year deals. Also leaving in Free Agency was WR Travis Benjamin and after another failed drug test it's likely that all-pro WR Josh Gordon has played his last downs with the Browns as well.

All things considered this isn't the first time Jackson has inherited a mess. In 2011, Jackson somehow went 8-8 as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. A year when Carson Palmer lasted only 9 games, threw more INT's than TD's and Darren McFadden played his standard 7 games. The WR corp consisted of Darius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy.

Since 2011, Jackson has been in Cincinnati and for the majority of those years has been the mastermind behind one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. While this team isn't equipped with an AJ Green or Tyler Eifert it does have some fungible pieces that Jackson can build a similar offense around. Jackson and the Browns management chose to invest in Robert Griffin III and a haul of draft picks to aid in the rebuilding process rather than drafting Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. One of those draft picks came in the form of explosive Baylor WR Corey Coleman (AJ Green) who will serve as the downfield threat for Griffin. Gary Barnidge (Tyler Eifert) will again be a key cog of the passing game while Crowell (Hill) and Duke Johnson (Bernard) will see if they can become a thunder and lightning backfield.

I have faith in Jackson because he coaches to his players strengths but I do not trust the offensive line. And for Robert Griffin to reignite his career I think he'll need to have a stable foundation to play behind. Joe Thomas is still one of the best in the game and Joel Bitonio has had a promising start to his career but as a unit you're only as strong as your weakest link. This Browns line seems to have plenty of candidates for that weakest link.

Jackson's offense is built upon a power run game that sets up the pass. During his four years in Oakland and Cincinnati, as either the Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator, Jackson's teams have been in the Top 7 in the NFL each year in rushing attempts. Although it still might be tough sledding for them this is great news for Crowell and Duke Johnson.

Opportunity:

Johnson's role will likely be the same as last season, with a chance for a slight uptick. Johnson will play the role of Gio Bernard with Isaiah Crowell playing the the role of Jeremy Hill. While the Cleveland combo is less heralded that the Bengals duo they're pretty close in talent. Either way, having opportunity in a Hue Jackson offense is a recipe for fantasy success.

In 2010, Darren McFadden had his career best season, totaling 1,600+ yards and 10 TDs. Run DMC finished as RB 6 while only playing in 13 games.  That same season backup RB Michael Bush totaled 849 total yards and 8 TDs. 655 on those yards came on the ground.

In Cincinnati, Bernard eclipsed 1,000 total yards each of his first 3 years. In standard scoring leagues Bernard finished at RB 16, 18 and 21, which again isn't taking into account any points for receptions. Jeremy Hill on the other hand has been RB 13 and RB 11 in his two years in the league. Despite the great success Hill has had I'll pump the brakes on predicting that for Crowell. Crowell is a talented back but the Browns offense wont be as potent as the Bengals. This means less red zone opportunities and since Cleveland will likely be playing from behind they won't be relying on Crowell to run out the clock. Again this should mean more opportunities for Johnson to be utilized in the passing game.

The Browns backfield is rounded out by Terrell Watson who was on Cincy's practice squad this past season. I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns brought in a back like Ahmad Bradshaw or Chris Polk to compete.

Outlook:

On May 23rd, Hue Jackson was quoted as saying he sees Johnson as "an every-down back." Gio Bernard has been a consistent RB2 in standard formats under Hue Jackson and I expect the same outcome at a minimum for Johnson this coming year. With a supporting cast that is lacking true playmakers I expect Duke to be utilized all over the field. Especially with mismatches in the passing game. For this reason I think Johnson is currently an underrated player in a PPR formats. In standard leagues Duke will be a player with a safe weekly floor who will occasionally hit the jackpot.