Bill O’Brien has done it again. In one of the most controversial moves this offseason, the Houston Texans acquired running back David Johnson and a second-round pick for DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-rounder. The Texans will pick up the running back’s salary, per Schefter, limiting their cap flexibility. It seems that Houston wanted an early draft selection, as they lacked one in the top 50 before the trade.
But I’m not here to evaluate O’Brien’s strategy — or lack of one. I’m more interested in what the move means for the stud rusher and his ex-committee members.
WHY ARIZONA MOVED ON
David Johnson looked like a top-five or six running back heading in 2019. And through the first half of the year, he was pretty close! Johnson ranked as the half-PPR RB11 after eight games, and that’s including his one-carry game from Week 7 and his absence from Week 8. If you go back two weeks, and Johnson was still the overall RB6.
But then the wheels fell off.
— Kyle Yates (@KyleYNFL) November 12, 2019
Johnson wouldn’t return from injury until Week 10, and by then, Arizona had added ex-Dolphin Kenyan Drake to their backfield. Johnson would touch the ball just 23 times the rest of the year — finishing as the RB75 through that stretch and as the overall RB34. Meanwhile, Drake exploded for 643 yards and eight scores once he landed in Glendale.
CAN HE RECOVER IN HOUSTON?
Well, what went wrong for Johnson last year? We know that he struggled through an ankle injury in 2019, and it clearly limited his rushing efficiency. With a full offseason to recover, fans should expect some of Johnson’s burst to return. The running back will enter next season at 28 years old, however, so he may never return to his pre-injury self.
Not all of Johnson’s problems in 2019 were his fault. He didn’t get a lot of support from his offensive line, as the Cardinals were fourth-worst in run blocking last season, and their unit graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 22nd offensive line overall. The Texans’ offensive line is marginally better, as PFF ranked them 20th overall, and they have room for growth. Tytus Howard will have the offseason to recover, and the former first-round pick should be able to pick up the pace in 2020. They’ll also get Laremy Tunsil back, and he should play at a higher level now that he’s had surgery to repair his torn labrum.
Johnson should also have less competition in Houston, but the even split between Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde last season is concerning. While Hyde likely won’t get re-signed for 2020, the Texans put the two backs in a true committee, and a similar workload split could be in store for Johnson.
Just how true of a committee was it, you ask? Well, Hyde earned 49 percent of the snaps to Johnson’s 48 percent. It’s hard to get much truer than that. Sure, David Johnson won’t have to compete with two other running backs as he did in Arizona, but it’s still unlikely he’ll become a total workhorse.
The move to Houston is still a substantial boost to Johnson’s value. He’s currently the RB30 (78th overall) according to FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings (ERC), but he should be closer to RB20, around the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Marlon Mack. He’s got a clearer path to the majority of carries now, and while he may not finish as a top-five running back again, he’s certainly worth a look in the fourth or fifth round. There will be sexier picks on draft day, but you should take proven ability like Johnson’s where you can find it.
Chase Edmonds is another huge beneficiary of this deal. I wrote about him earlier this month, and I’d give that blurb a read. The Cardinals proved that they could feature two fantasy-relevant running backs last year, and Edmonds will now have RB3/4 floor with RB1 upside should anything happen to Drake.