D'Ernest Johnson Fantasy Outlook: Prime Waiver Wire Target After Nick Chubb's Injury? - Roto Street Journal
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D’Ernest Johnson Fantasy Outlook: Prime Waiver Wire Target After Nick Chubb’s Injury?

In Week 4 versus the Cowboys, Nick Chubb suffered an MCL injury that’s expected to sideline him six weeks. Indeed, this makes Kareem Hunt a weekly Top-5 fantasy football RB for the foreseeable future.

Yet, Cleveland’s “Ground Pie” is massive. The team ranks first in rush yards (818, 204.5 per game), second in carries (139, 34.8 per), first in TDs (8), and first in YPC (5.9). Another mouth behind Hunt can, and likely will, be sustained.

If Sunday was any indication, that’ll be D’Ernest Johnson, who becomes of immediate interest on the Week 5 Waiver Wire.

Against Dallas, Johnson led the Browns in carries (13) and rush yards (95), averaging a robust 7.3 YPC while filling the void left by Chubb.

Granted, the Browns had a huge lead, against the pathetic Cowboys defense, while Hunt played through a groin injury. All played a role in Johnson’s usage and outburst.  Most weeks, I expect Hunt to see 65-70% of the load, with Johnson working in for 8-10 totes.

Yet, while unlikely, what if the team wants to keep Hunt in a change of pace role? Or, what if Hunt’s groin injury lingers and he needs to miss time? Johnson could become a bell-cow, the rarest of commodities, within the best possible scheme.

Even if not, any weekly role behind this line, within this zone scheme, should be pursued by fantasy owners.

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So who is D’Ernest Johnson?

Entering Sunday, Johnson had exactly 10 touches (6 rec) for 92 total yards on his NFL resume. Indeed, he’s the surest thing from a “proven commodity.”

Still, Johnson has produced whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

Most recently, Johnson played for the Orlando Apollos of the AAF. When the league folded after just two months, Johnson was third in the AAF in rushing with 372 yards in eight games and second in total RB fantasy points, behind only Trent Richardson. This earned him a tryout with the Browns, who signed him in May 2019.

Prior, Johnson racked up impressive stats, albeit locked behind Marlon Mack, while at South Florida. Despite the committee, Johnson finished as USF’s career leader in all-purpose yards (4,186), RB receptions (73), and RB receiving yards (909). His receiving ability might be his most desirable trait, giving Johnson three-down upside.

On the highlight tape from Sunday, Johnson’s receiving abilities remained untapped, but he routinely flashed the patience, vision, and burst to be a zone-running nightmare:

Also, Johnson was known as “The Junkyard Dog” for his penchant of racking up the tough, ugly yardage. Anytime you can add “Junkyard Dog” to your fantasy locker room, you don’t hesitate.

Granted, Johnson’s athletic measurables aren’t strong. In fact, they’re downright awful. Via PlayerProfiler:

Ew.

Hopefully, Johnson’s track record of production, despite a lack of raw ability, will continue to translate. This line and scheme can undoubtedly help mask his shortcomings, too.

Last, Johnson’s other moniker, “Slow Grind,” reflects his maturity and hunger. The man has a level, motivated head on his shoulders after earning everything in his career thus far:

“Coming out of high school, I always had to get it the hard way,” Johnson said in a Zoom call Monday. “I always had to earn everything I did. I had to stay patient no matter what. Something could be right in front of me, and I had to just wait to go get it.

“‘Slow Grind’ stands for staying focused on the ultimate goal. Sometimes the process does not come fast. It takes time. Right now, I am really in a slow grind process because of what happened and I got my opportunity. I have worked hard for it. It has been a long journey. I have just been trying to make sure I seize every moment of it.”

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has been impressed with his work ethic, and credits it for Johnson’s immediate success on Sunday:

“From the moment I got here and watching how he prepares and how he goes about his business, he grinds on this thing… You saw that. D’Ernest was standing at the ready.”

Even backfield mate Hunt expects big things for Johnson, telling him, “I need you, too, man” as Chubb was helped off. This is a two-back system, and everyone within it eats.

Although still unproven in the NFL and an inferior athlete, Johnson has a strong track record of success and is within an offensive system that will mask his deficiencies.

Summary: D’Ernest Johnson Worth Solid Week 5 Waiver Wire Bid

Johnson has been productive whenever given a chance. Amidst Nick Chubb’s six-week absence, he should find plenty of opportunity in a goldmine situation for RBs. The Browns lead the NFL in rushing yards, YPC, and TDs, while ranking 2nd in carries. This line is beastly, the scheme is beautiful, and Johnson showed he can thrive within it while racking up a team-high 95 yards on 13 carries (7.3 YPC).

He’ll be behind Hunt, who now ascends to weekly Top-5 status. Still, 8-10 carries should provide usable value during Bye Week crunches. Moreover, if Hunt’s groin injury worsens or the stud suffers another ailment, Johnson is the clear next man up. The floor seems sturdy, while that ceiling would be astronomical.

Brutal matchups await the Browns run game the next two weeks, as the Steelers and Colts are both Top-5 versus RBs. After this, though, the schedule softens, with five of the next six opponents Bottom-12 vs. the position.

All-in-all, this makes Johnson a prime Week 5 Waiver Wire target. While I prefer targeting Damien Harris if available, Johnson is the second most appealing widely available RB. I wouldn’t blow my complete FAAB or No.1 Priority load, but 15% or so feels right.

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