Saturday, October 31, 2015

Chris Johnson: Buyer Beware

In my weekly column, Projecting Ownership Percentage, I made the case for using Chris Johnson in GPPs despite a moderately high ownership projection. Here was my thinking:

  • Johnson looks completely rejuvenated this season.
  • Since Week 2 (his first game as a starter), only Devonta Freeman has totaled more than Johnson's 530 rushing yards.
  • Johnson is due for positive touchdown regression. He only has three rushing touchdowns despite seeing the fourth-most attempts from inside the opponent's 10-yard line since Week 2.
  • No team has surrendered more fantasy points and rushing yards per game to running backs than Johnson's opponent this week, the Cleveland Browns.
  • The game script is favorable for running back production. Arizona is a 4.5 point favorite with a solid 25.25 point implied team total. 
  • Johnson is the cumulative RB8 since Week 2 per DraftKings scoring, yet he's still priced as the RB19. There's profit baked into his affordable $4,600 price tag.
So what's up with the title of this post?

On Friday, Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians revealed there will be "more in the game plan" for Andre Ellington this week. That report was followed up by this quote from Arizona's offensive coordinator, Charles Goodwin:
"I think BA (head coach Bruce Arians) has stuff for (Ellington) and he didn't get to it, but I'm sure he'll get to it this week. As you saw (Monday night), there was a series where I think he was pretty much in there the whole series because he (Arians) wanted to get him going. He's got fresh legs, obviously."
With most teams, I'd write this off as coach speak, but not with the Cardinals. Bruce Arians is the Jim Carrey character from Liar, Liar when it comes to addressing the media, specifically as it relates to Ellington. When he told us the offense would run through Ellington in 2014, most analysts laughed -- until Ellington averaged over 20 touches per game before inevitably breaking down. And coming into this season, when Arians told us Ellington's role wouldn't change despite the acquisitions of both Johnson and rookie running back David Johnson, very few people believed him. But in Week 1, there was Ellington dominating the Cardinals' running back snaps (and looking really good) before spraining his PCL in the second half.

As an unabashed Ellington supporter, maybe the stock I'm putting into the news cycle is slanted by confirmation bias, but Arians' affection for Ellington is undeniable, and it's entirely possible Arizona has been limiting his touches in an effort to get him completely healthy for the stretch run. Not to mention, Ellington has been awesome on his limited opportunities this season -- he's averaging 7.6 yards per carry and 13.7 yards per catch.

I'm now approaching this week as though we'll see a close-to-even split of backfield snaps between Ellington and Chris Johnson, which means Johnson is no longer safe for cash games. I would rather Danny Woodhead at $4,500 or Jonathan Stewart in a great match-up with the Colts at $4,100 if I'm looking to save at running back. And in GPPs, the better play may actually be Ellington. He'll unquestionably be lower owned, and if he does see a significant uptick in playing time, the match-up with Cleveland should unlock his big-play ability.The Browns have let up the second-most rushing plays of 10 yards or more in the league.

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