2013 Fantasy Football Dark Horse Sleeper: Dennis Johnson

By Dustin Manko
Dennis Johnson
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes the only way to get into the game is for the guy ahead of you to go down to injury. Tom Brady might not have ever had a chance to win the starting job had Drew Bledsoe not got injured. Colin Kaepernick might still be Alex Smith’s understudy had Smith not sustained a concussion last season. With that being said, very few people even knew Dennis Johnson’s name prior to this season, let alone thought he would have fantasy football value down the stretch run.

Who? Dennis Johnson was the third string running back for the Houston Texans, but due to recent injuries he might find himself climbing the depth chart and gaining fantasy relevance.

Arian Foster hasn’t been healthy all year. Now dealing with a disc problem that looks like it could need surgery, Foster shouldn’t be in any lineups, real or fantasy. With Houston being 2-6 and clearly out of the playoff picture, it would make little sense for the Texans to risk their franchise back worsening his back in 2013. Second stringer Ben Tate has been carrying as much of the load as possible during Foster’s absence, but has been playing with four broken ribs recently, and has been running away from contact, clearly not a good sign. He is highly unlikely to finish this season.

Enter Dennis Johnson, who finished his college career with almost a six yards per carry average, 2,036 yards and 13 touchdowns while at Arkansas. In very limited NFL action, Johnson has 36 yards on eight attempts, averaging four and a half yards per attempt. He is not yet a fantasy starter, but is certainly worth a stash because if or when Foster is held out and Tate breaks down, Johnson would become the featured back for a team that traditionally is a run first team.

With new quarterback Case Keenum throwing the ball all over the yard and Andre Johnson establishing himself as a viable threat again, coupled with a banged up running back committee for Houston, opposing defenses likely will be focusing on eliminating Andre Johnson from the offense. This could lead to a healthy workload when Dennis Johnson becomes the featured back, as Houston is 12th this season with 231 rushing attempts.

Forward thinking owners should obviously consider the great schedule that Houston has to finish the year. They split a home and home with the Jacksonville Jaguars (who are dead last against the run). They also host the New England Patriots (allowing the 10th most fantasy points to running backs) and the Denver Broncos (allowing the 11th most fantasy points to running backs) and travel to take on the Tennessee Titans (ninth most fantasy points allowed to running backs). Clearly there are some appealing matchups that Johnson could take advantage of.

I wouldn’t have Johnson in my starting lineup this week, but if there is someone on your bench worth cutting and you need depth at running back, or are looking for a sleeper, Dennis Johnson could pay dividends down the stretch. I don’t think that Foster is going to see much more action this season, and Tate has looked like he’s running scared. With Houston’s season spiraling down the drain, it would make sense for the coaching staff to take a look at their rookie back. If they do, he could provide fantasy value with a heavy workload against a soft schedule.

As always, I welcome your comments. If you think I’m wrong, I’m willing to listen. Just back it up with some facts and solid evidence. Thanks for reading and good luck this season.

Dustin Manko is an author at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @DustinManko, ”Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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