Faceoff - RB Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
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Upside - by David Yudkin
Rudi Johnson had a fine season last year, ranking as the #8 fantasy RB with 1,538 total yards and 12 TD. Johnson faced the toughest schedule of any running back, battling 10 Top 10 rushing defenses in 2004 and scoring 10+ fantasy points in 7 of those games. Gone are the rigors of the AFC East and NFC East, replaced with what on paper should be more favorable match ups against the AFC South and NFC North (neither division had a Top 10 rushing defense last year).
Including his 4 starts in 2003, Johnson has averaged 111 total yards, 0.85 TD, and 16.2 fantasy points per game as a starter. For comparison, Edge averaged 16.4, D. Davis 15.4, Tiki 15.1, Deuce 14.9, and Martin 14.0 ppg over the past two years. Johnson has had 9 games with 100+ rushing yards in those 20 games.
Johnson plays on a team on the way up. The Johnson & Johnson tandem (Rudi and Chad) could both put up some impressive totals for years to come with QB Carson Palmer embarking on what should be a long and productive career. Rudi stands to benefit from additional scoring opportunities with a potent offensive attack.
Cincinnati has increased its point total from 185 to 226 to 279 to 346 to 374 points over the past 5 seasons. Johnson has the size and skills to produce numbers Corey Dillon never could because the offense was never this good. On a team scoring twice as many points as the Dillon-era Bengals, Johnson should be able to score double-digit touchdowns again in 2005.
Given that Johnsonís current ADP is as the #15 RB, he should be able to rank substantially higher than that if he stays healthy.
Downside - by Mike Brown
Thereís no question that Rudi Johnson was fantastic last season, his first full year as a feature back. He totaled nearly 1,500 rushing yards to go along with 12 touchdowns on the ground. Not only did he finish up as the 8th-ranked running back, but the 361 carries he tallied didnít seem to wear him down any, as he saved his best for Week 17. That week, Johnson ran for 99 yards and 3 scores, no doubt helping many a fantasy owner to a title.
Yet now, he is being drafted in the middle of the second round on average, despite finishing as a top-10 back in an improving offense. So whatís the deal?
Well, the general consensus is that last year was probably the peak of Johnsonís value.
One cannot reasonably expect him to carry the ball 350+ times again, especially with former first round pick Chris Perry wasting away on the bench the past two seasons. Itíd seem likely that the team would want to see what they have in him at some point.
One other factor working against Johnson is his inability to catch the ball. Since nearly all of Johnsonís production comes on the ground, and heíll probably get fewer carries in í05, then one can reasonably expect that his point total will decrease.
There just doesnít seem to be much upside to drafting Johnson this year. We likely saw the best of Johnson in 2005, and there is very little chance of him improving upon his stats. So if you draft him, youíre likely drafting him based off of his 2004 and not what you should expect in 2005. Youíd be much better served looking elsewhere for someone who will either surpass or at least live up to his ADP.