Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kerryon Johnson
- Kerryon Johnson looked a top running back last season. Could he break out if the Detroit Lions go with a committee backfield?
- Ian Hartitz assesses the second-year back's fantasy football value heading into 2019.
Editor’s note: The Lions released Theo Riddick after this piece was first published. See Kerryon Johnson’s and the rest of the Lions’ updated fantasy rankings — which you can use to build custom cheat sheets for your draft — in our Draft Kit.
The Lions didn’t exactly live up to expectations in their first season under new head coach Matt Patricia, finishing last in the NFC North thanks to a mediocre 6-10 record.
One of Detroit’s few bright spots was rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. The 43rd overall pick of the 2018 draft snapped the franchise’s infamous 70-game drought without a 100-yard rusher in Week 3 against the Patriots and displayed an ability to turn nothing into something on a routine basis.
Let’s take a look at what makes Johnson tick and determine his fantasy football value heading into 2019.
Kerryon Johnson Took over Detroit’s Backfield in 2018
The Lions had a fairly packed backfield entering 2018. LeGarrette Blount was the early-down back, Theo Riddick handled passing downs and some continued to hold out hope for 2015 second-round pick Ameer Abdullah.
Enter Johnson, who managed to emerge as the offense’s best overall back by Week 2. It took a bit longer for the coaching staff to come around to the idea of featuring their rookie as a three-down back, but it was clearly a new era in Detroit following the team’s Week 6 bye.
Riddick and Blount (to a lesser extent) remained involved, but Johnson was clearly the lead back over this stretch. The rookie was one of just 17 backs to average at least 18 combined carries and targets per game from Weeks 7 to 11.
Even more encouraging for Lions fans was just how effective Johnson was with those touches. His average of 5.43 yards per carry was the highest by any Detroit player (minimum 100 carries) since Barry Sanders averaged 6.13 yards per carry in 1997.
Johnson was one of fantasy’s most valuable assets over this stretch, working as the overall PPR RB9 in Weeks 7-11.