One game. That’s how long it took new Browns OC Freddie Kitchens to repudiate ex-coach Hue Jackson and ex-OC Todd Haley’s usage of Duke Johnson. After closing out 2017 with 196 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches over his final two games, Johnson entered Week 9 having never touched the ball more than six times this season. He surpassed that in the first half against the Chiefs, with his sixth catch going for a 19-yard touchdown.
When the dust settled, Johnson handled the ball 10 times, catching a team-leading nine passes for 78 yards and a pair of scores. Johnson led the Browns in every receiving category. That’s not always something you want to see, but the Browns needed to prove to themselves it was possible — this safety valve still exists as an option — as well as put it on film for other teams.
You do not want Baker Mayfield to get addicted to checking down to running backs. But with the Browns’ offense stuck in neutral, it’s good for him to get in rhythm on anything. Johnson can be a building block for further refinements. The Browns have an abysmal receiver depth chart. Instead of forcing targets to Rashard Higgins and Damion Ratley, Mayfield now knows he has a reliable, productive pair of hands in Johnson. Getting Johnson going could take pressure off Antonio Callaway and David Njoku, lessening defensive attention on Mayfield’s inconsistent young pass catchers while perhaps increasing their confidence.
Fantasy owners should count on this being an every-week thing. It’s quite possible Kitchens was just exploiting the Chiefs’ well-known vulnerability over the middle of the field. Thankfully for Johnson, Week 10 opponent Atlanta has the same vulnerability, and is somehow even worse than the Chiefs at policing running back receptions. No team has hemorrhaged more catches to enemy runners.
Johnson is not about to become a featured fantasy option. He is ready to contribute. That he wasn’t earlier is a stain on Jackson and Haley’s atrocious record. That he is now is a case of “better late than never” for both the Browns and PPR players.
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Five Week 9 Storylines
Chris Carson departs early with thigh injury. Playing through a hip issue, Carson reeled off a 15-yard gain on the Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage. He quickly piled up 40 yards on eight carries before mysteriously departing. When he was next spotted, it was with a heavy wrap on his left leg and without his helmet. Deemed “doubtful,” he did not return as a heavily-pressured Russell Wilson turned in a shaky performance. Producing has not been much of a problem — Carson entered Week 9 with three 100-yard rushing performances in his past four games — but staying healthy has been. Whatever the Seahawks say he is, Carson should be considered unlikely to suit up against the Rams. Carson’s absence would make Mike Davis a plug-and-play RB2, and Rashaad Penny a risk/reward FLEX in what will likely be a high-scoring affair.
Tevin Coleman finally has himself a ballgame. Coleman entered Week 9 having eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage just one time in seven games. Allowing the league’s second-fewest rushing yards and sixth-fewest running back fantasy points, the Redskins seemed like an unlikely opportunity for 100-yard day No. 2. Alas, Coleman had his best all-around game of the season, posting new 2018 bests in YFS (156), touchdowns (two), catches (five), receiving yards (68) and yards per carry (6.76). It was a needed big day for a player who has been disappointing in Devonta Freeman’s absence. Although Ito Smith is going to remain in the picture, Coleman could rapidly ascend from shaky RB2 to high-end option with another big game. Week 10 opponent Cleveland has been pillow soft against the run.
Dalvin Cook reasserts No. 1 status in Minnesota. Ticketed for anything from 8-20 snaps, Cook ended up playing 28. Buoyed by a 70-yard run, he took the rock 10 times for 89 yards. That, of course, means he gained just 19 yards on his other nine carries. There is still much work to be done, but the Vikings’ Week 10 bye is well timed for a player who has never really been healthy this season. Cook now gets two weeks to further heal and progress toward 100 percent while knowing that his legs are legitimately back underneath him. The Vikes come off their bye to a tough Week 11 matchup with the Bears. Cook will be a risk/reward RB2, with Latavius Murray falling back to FLEX-only status.
A.J. Green gets a worrisome update on his toe. Some of the biggest news of the day broke before the games kicked off. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported Green visited a specialist during the Bengals’ bye week and that “everything” is on the table, including surgery. ESPN’s Adam Schefter quickly confirmed that Green is expected to miss “some” time. It sounds like “some” could easily turn into “a lot,” potentially even injured reserve. Although they are a solid 5-3, Green joining Tyler Eifert and John Ross on the shelf would probably cook the Bengals’ season. With Green set to miss Week 10, Tyler Boyd will be in for a huge workload against the Saints’ porous pass defense.
Joe Flacco’s slump deepens. After starting the season on a high note by his standards — five touchdowns in two games — Flacco has gone off the Flacco deep end. The 33-year-old starter has a depressing four touchdowns over his past five starts, while his yards per attempt has fallen all the way to 6.50. That’s not the way to hold off your first-round rookie backup. John Harbaugh is a traditionalist, a coach not prone to rash actions. But with talk of his job security beginning to surface, even Harbaugh could be ready for drastic action in Ozzie Newsome’s final year as general manager. Lamar Jackson will be raw. At this point, that would be much preferable to Flacco’s “cooked.” Harbaugh has the Ravens’ Week 9 bye to think it over.
Five More Week 9 Storylines
Matthew Stafford takes 10 sacks in humiliating loss. Already in the midst of a bizarre season, Stafford took a turn toward the outright bad against the Vikings. The 10 sacks were one thing. That kind of number is usually a team effort, just not poor blocking. Play calling and quarterback decision making goes into it. But Stafford’s backyard pitch to an unsuspecting Kerryon Johnson? Not only did it seal a then 17-6 game for the Vikes, it quite possibly ended the Lions’ playoff hopes. To be that careless in that moment is the sort of thing Stafford was supposed to have grown out of. Now he has to try to get on track against Khalil Mack’s Bears in Week 10. At least in the sack department, a bounce back is possible, even against the Bears. Stafford had been the league’s least-pressured quarterback before Sunday’s debacle. He will still be a full fade in fantasy.
Sam Darnold has worst start yet. Darnold was utterly horrendous against the Dolphins’ previously-struggling defense, tossing four ugly picks and comprehensively failing to move the offense. Darnold now has more interceptions (14) than scores (11) on the year and is struggling in every rate statistic. Darnold doesn’t have the best supporting cast, and it has been quite banged up, but others have produced with worse. The question for Darnold’s future is if these are Goff-ian growing pains or indicative of who Darnold will be in the NFL. Turnovers, after all, were part of his reputation coming out of USC. As Jameis Winston has shown, that’s not something you always grow out of. Darnold has a foreboding Week 10 matchup in the Bills.
Nathan Peterman continues to embarrass the NFL. One of the reasons this was Peterman’s worst start yet is because he was actually allowed to complete it. When the dust settled, Peterman had three picks on a gobsmacking 49 throws — you seriously let Nathan Peterman attempt 49 passes? — and zero aerial scores. As the Bills’ Twitter account celebrated, he did manage to register a QB sneak touchdown. Amazingly, hilariously, fittingly, Peterman’s 189 yards were the fewest ever by a player with at least 30 completions. Peterman now has three career passing scores compared to 12 interceptions on 130 attempts. Not since the ‘70s has a quarterback thrown so many picks on so few throws. It is a continuing embarrassment that Peterman, a former fifth-rounder, is still starting games while certain other players remain unsigned.
Demaryius Thomas has quiet Texans debut, Courtland Sutton has quiet starting debut. Thomas caught just three passes for 61 scoreless yards for his new team while Sutton caught three balls for 57 scoreless yards in his new starting position. Thomas drew only three targets as Deshaun Watson was limited to 24 attempts on a subdued day for the Texans’ offense. Sutton drew five looks, which was somehow six fewer than TE Jeff Heuerman. It was a disappointing day against the Texans’ injury-ruined cornerback corps. Things will be tougher in Week 10 when the Broncos must do battle with Casey Hayward’s Chargers. Thomas will face Josh Norman’s Redskins when the Texans come off bye in Week 11. Thomas is a low-upside WR3. Sutton is a high-upside WR2/FLEX.
Jeff Heuerman catches 10 passes for Broncos. It was Heuerman who spoiled Sutton’s starting debut, soaking up checkdowns from limited starter Case Keenum. He led the Broncos in targets, receptions and receiving. Heuerman already had privileged access in the red zone, so increased volume would vault him from TE2 streamer to TE1 discussion. Things are often week to week in bad offenses, but Heuerman is well worth a flier if you’re stuck in Kyle Rudolphville at fantasy’s thinnest position. Week 10 opponent Los Angeles (Chargers) is nothing special up the seam.
2. It is easy to blame everything on coaches, but doesn’t it feel like the Mike McCarthy era has run its course in Green Bay?
3. Did you know there are teams that have lost to the Bills?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Jets (vs. BUF), Packers (vs. MIA), Bills (@NYJ), Colts (vs. JAX), 49ers (vs. NYG), Lions (@CHI)
Stats of the Week
Elijah McGuire touched the ball 10 times in his 2018 debut, out-snapping Isaiah Crowell 36-23. It was partly game flow related, but there is going to be a lot of bad game flow for the Jets. McGuire is seamlessly sliding into Bilal Powell’s old role.
343 days. That’s how long it had been since Julio Jones scored a regular season touchdown. Rejoice.
The Bears had 190 yards of offense but 41 points. What can the Bills do for you?
Travis Kelce’s worst game since Week 1 was his five-catch, 61-yard Week 6.
Tweet of the Week, From the Orange County Register’s Rich Hammond: Drew Brees takes snap, scrolls through text messages, throws TD.
Tweek of the Week II, From ESPN’s Field Yates: The Patriots got Josh Gordon for a fifth-round pick LOL.
Guaranteed to Make You Tilt Award: “Alex Armah”’s first quarter touchdown for the Panthers.