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Fantasy Football David Johnson Is A Sleeper, Todd Gurley Is A Bust

Jake Ciely August 11, 2015 5:00AM EDT
How quickly things can change, huh? In a few short weeks, Allen Robinson and Ameer Abdullah have rocketed up draft boards and are nearing their true values. Meanwhile, Travaris Cadet might not be around to be a sleeper if James White keeps out-producing him this offseason. As always, if you missed any of the previous pieces or just want to see how far some players have come (or fallen), just click away. This week, we’re back to running backs for one of my favorite rookies.

Previous Sleepers And Busts of the Week

Allen Robinson and Kevin White | Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon | Teddy Bridgewater and Ben Roethlisberger | Tyler Eifert and Julius Thomas | Matt Forte and Travaris Cadet | Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson

Sleeper: David Johnson, ARI

Juuusssst in case you haven’t listened to me since January or overlooked every time I mentioned his name, I’m here to tell you about the greatness that is David Johnson. I thought it was good timing with many starting to worry about his being injured.

Quick side note: if we get to Week 2 of the preseason and he’s still not playing, then I’ll start to worry, but have you noticed how many players are “banged up” right now? Way too many people overreact to news before we even get one week into the preseason.


(Update Aug. 11) Okay… ANOTHER NOTE! If this Grade 2 hamstring strain news is accurate and Chris Johnson gets signed to challenge for lead work, well, blow this whole thing up! The Cardinals backfield needs your full attention. If healthy, Johnson could easily do everything I’m about to say, but he has to get on the field. (Aug. 18 with another one) CJK is officially signed, and that’s a concern for David Johnson more than any worry for Andre Ellington. It sounds as if DJ is ready to practice, and as I’ve said before, if given the opportunity, he could push Ellington to a Giovani Bernard role. That’s not a terrible thing folks!

To start, let me pull a blurb from my pre-draft evaluation of Johnson:

David Johnson is basically a receiver who’s also a running back, not a ‘pass-catching running back.’ He’s a big boy at 6′-1″ 230 lbs but is still quick enough with a steady/smooth speed, which will let teams get creative. … He’ll be a nightmare for linebackers from day one no matter where he lands.”

That pass-catching ability is why many want to pigeonhole Johnson into being an H-back, but Johnson can be so much more. He can be the leader in the backfield with nice burst to the hole and power to break tackles. The best part about Johnson is that even if Andre Ellington lines up behind Carson Palmer, Johnson could line up with him or even split wide on the line of scrimmage. He’s that good, and Bruce Arians and the Cardinals have noticed. In fact, they really didn’t need to see Johnson on the field more than just to confirm their opinions, as this team was already very high on him.

The argument against Johnson lies with Andre Ellington. “Johnson is still the No. 2 option. Ellington was highly productive as a rookie. Ellington just needs to get healthy with the Cardinals offensive line improving.” That’s all great, but there are a lot of caveats there.

The biggest issue is that Ellington has been unable to stay healthy, even back into his Clemson days. Between a hernia, a hip pointer, his foot, ribs, more hip issues and now (yes, currently a new “minor injury”) a hamstring, Ellington is as risky as they come. The Cardinals aren’t stupid; they know this. That’s why they drafted Johnson and can use Ellington in a Giovani Bernard role this season.

For everyone that loves Ellington, that’s still valuable, and I have him ranked as a mid-RB3 in standard leagues and low-end RB2 in PPR. But that also means he’s not the RB1-potential option people hoped to see when he hit the league. With Ellington able to excel in the Gio role, Johnson can do the same as the lead option, but his upside is much more even if he only gets a slight edge in the share percentage. As I mentioned earlier, when Johnson isn’t in the backfield, he can stay on the field and run receiver-like routes. He’s that dang good.

This is why I have Johnson ranked higher than Ellington, and seeing him with an ADP of RB44 is just criminal to me. You’re getting Ellington-like pass-catching ability with Johnson, but you don’t stop there. You add in the ability to lead a rushing attack and a body built to line up out wide when he’s not the backfield option. More touches equals more opportunity. It’s really that simple, and it’s really obvious why Johnson is a terrific sleeper.

Bust: Todd Gurley, STL

“Say what Jake? You’re insane. You’re the worst Fantasy analyst ever. I hate you! Go away.”


To be fair, it wouldn’t be the first time I heard any of those statements, but don’t close your browser and swear me off just yet (at least wait until all of my sleeper recommendations have hit the IR by Week 4). When I talk “sleepers and busts,” I am really talking about under and overvalued players. I’ve said it before and will again: there aren’t any true blue “sleepers” these days. You can argue there are actual “busts,” but they often come with added details such as injuries or when people get caught up in preseason hype instead of listening to the Fantasy analysts.

With Gurley, it comes down to the fact that his current ADP carries heavy bust potential. It’s not because of his talent or my opinion of him. In fact, if you read my Pre-Draft Rookie Breakdowns, Gurley was my No. 1 running back and it wasn’t even close… and that hasn’t changed. The problem is that Gurley isn’t 100 percent, and we don’t know when he will be. The Rams shocked everyone by drafting Gurley, but they were thinking long term, as Tre Mason is more than capable of being a lead running back until Gurley is ready. We saw Mason’s ability last year, and he was atop my pre-draft running back board along with Isaiah Crowell.

The Rams made the choice not to pass on a generational talent, but again, they know that’s what Gurley is and won’t rush him or risk creating career-damaging effects by pushing him too hard. That’s why some Rams’ writers think we might not see Gurley fully utilized until after Week 6, if at all in 2015. He’ll play, but the question is whether Gurley will ever be the true lead back and get 60-70 percent of the carries.

Let’s think positively for a minute though, and let’s assume Gurley is 100 percent come Week 6, Mason regresses and Gurley gets 60-70 of the carries by midseason. Gurley would need to have a C.J. Anderson-like second half to reach RB1 status. Sure, he’s that talented and it’s not crazy to say he could, but if you draft him as RB21 (current ADP), you’re leaving little room for Gurley to provide return value. The current running backs behind Gurley include Joseph Randle, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Spiller, LeGarrette Blount, Andre Ellington, Giovani Bernard, Isaiah Crowell, Chris Ivory, etc. Outside of Blount, all can provide their full worth for 16 games, and the Randle/Yeldon/Ivory/Crowell quartet (along with Blount after his suspension) should be their team’s lead option.

Again, Gurley himself is not a bust and I love him as a player. If we’re talking keeper leagues, just ignore all of the above and draft him in the Top 15 running backs. However, in redraft leagues, I have a hard time paying RB2 value and investing a pick in the late fourth round (47th overall ADP) for a player that won’t be 100 percent for a few weeks and may never see a full workload until 2016.

Main Image h/t @tg4hunnid

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