Breaking Down the Lions Backfield
Kerryon Johnson owners were probably already a little nervous when the news came out on March 28th that Matt Patricia stated that he planned to limit the second round pick’s workload. The news did not get much better on April 1st when the Detroit Lions added C.J. Anderson to the roster. Theo Riddick will still factor in some on passing downs.
All Anderson did when given a second chance with the Rams last year was go for 89-488-4 in his five games in Los Angeles. Anderson was presumably brought in to fill the LeGarrette Blount role. Let us look at the data and see if we can predict how the backfield will shake out in the Motown in 2019.
Johnson was drafted with the 43rd overall pick in the 2018 draft so the Lions obviously like him. The soon to be second-year running back’s combine data was similar to that of Alvin Kamara so the athleticism is there.
The rookie did flash some potential in 2018 finishing as a top-12 running back in 3-of-10 games he played in. If we extrapolate his 10 game numbers out over the course of 16 games, the Auburn product would have finished as the RB13 with 226.4 fantasy points. Johnson averaged a stellar 5.4 yards per carry and added 32 receptions out of the backfield as well.
The concern with Johnson is Patricia’s statement that he wanted to limit Johnson’s workload. The good news is that the dynamic running back averaged .90 points per opportunity in 2018. Even with a limited 20 touches, Johnson should have no problem getting you 15 points a week in PPR formats.
This point per opportunity data can be found under the tools and data tab at FFS. Johnson was just as efficient on a per touch basis as Anderson was last year. Keep in mind, Kerryon (my wayward son!) was not used much the first two weeks of the season. The knee sprain he suffered last year should not be too concerning. There was talk that the injured back could have returned had the Lions made the playoffs.
Johnson is currently being drafted at an average of pick 36.84 (RB14). This is a good range to grab him with the upside he brings on a per touch basis. Anderson should not threaten too much of his already limited workload. If anything, Anderson may vulture some touchdowns, which hurts, but Johnson showed proficiency catching the ball out of the backfield last year to help offset the potential loss of goal line work.
The 32 catches Johnson had last year were more than he caught in any of his three years at Auburn. Johnson received 39 targets and turned in an impressive 82.1% catch rate. The efficient running back also averaged a pristine 5.69 yards per touch so when he gets the ball in his hands, he makes the most of it.
Johnson also accounted for 9.69% of the team targets in the 10 games he played in 2018.
Johnson can comfortably be taken at his current ADP and then hope for a healthy year out of him. The Patricia talk and the addition of Anderson have driven his price down. This is a great “buy-low” piece to add to your redraft squad in 2019.
Anderson revived his career with a late-season run in Los Angeles last year. He was the RB3 in Week 16 and then followed it up with an RB2 showing in Week 17. The caveat here is that Anderson ran behind one of the best run-blocking lines in the NFL and a potent offense. Gurley also sat out Weeks 16 and 17 so Anderson was the feature back.
The big back should do well as the Blount replacement working from the goal line and in short-yardage situations. The Lions brought Anderson in on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. That certainly is not feature back money and I do not expect the University of California grad to sniff 10 touches per game. As the chart shows above, Anderson was efficient with his touches, earning .89 points per touch.
Even when Anderson was the feature back in 2017 while in Denver, he still did not provide much consistency on a weekly basis. The full workload did allow Anderson to finish as RB18 with 175.1 points. That’s good for 10.94 points per week.
Anderson may be a wise handcuff for Johnson owners if you are looking to fill a roster spot at the back end of your drafts. He does not project to have much more value than that. Remember that the line and the offense in Detroit are far less talented than what Anderson enjoyed while in Los Angeles when he went nuts over a five-week stretch. There is a reason that the journeyman running back was on the street for the Rams to sign him last year.
Theo Riddick accounted for 101 touches last year in Detroit. Most of his work comes in the passing game. Riddick caught a ridiculous 61 balls on 74 targets. That was good for an 82.4% catch rate and 6.3 yards per reception. Even with all of these catches, the former Fighting Irishman still finished as RB43 in PPR formats. The backfield receiving specialist did manage to post four respectable finishes in 2018, however.
Riddick really should not be drafted except in the deepest of leagues as a flex or a bye week fill in. Even if Johnson were to get hurt again, Riddick’s value would not change much. In the six games Theo played without Johnson, his best PPR week was 13 points in Week 12, when he managed to haul in 7 passes.
Kerryon Johnson can still be drafted with confidence in all formats. Many owners will be scared off by the coach speak from Matt Patricia and the signing of C.J. Anderson. The savvy owner will buy Johnson at his depressed price.
C.J. Anderson mustered some semblance of a rebirth in Los Angeles, but that will not likely translate over in Detroit. Anderson will also be on the wrong side of 28 when the season starts.
Theo Riddick is nothing more than a passing game piece and saw the fewest touches (101) in a season since 2014. The arrival of Johnson sealed Riddick’s fate as a fantasy asset of any kind, except in larger league formats.
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