As Deshaun Watson tries to lead the Houston Texans to just their third win of the season, he will have to do so without one of his key weapons. With David Johnson landing on injured reserve, the Texans will now entrust Duke Johnson to handle starting duties.
Can the former Cleveland Browns running back succeed in a more prominent role? Or will he struggle to handle the physical toll of carrying the load?
David Johnson has carried the load in Houston
Early in his NFL career, David Johnson looked like a budding star. But after leading the league in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns in 2016, the former third-round pick never came close to matching that production again with the Arizona Cardinals.
In March, Bill O’Brien stunningly traded DeAndre Hopkins in a deal that brought back Johnson. While the former has put up monster numbers with the Cardinals, the latter has not provided nearly the same impact with his new team.
Still, Johnson has at least carried the load at running back. He leads the Texans in carries (103) and rushing yards (408). The 28-year-old has also caught 16 passes for 161 yards and scored four total touchdowns.
Houston has been so thin at running back that Watson actually ranks second on the team in rushing. Duke Johnson has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 34 attempts. Overall, Houston ranks 31st in the league at 87.6 rushing yards per game.
The Texans just lost a major piece of their offense
While David Johnson certainly hasn’t been great, he has done all the heavy lifting through the first half of the season. However, the sixth-year pro won’t be back on the field anytime soon.
On Saturday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported via Twitter that Johnson will go on injured reserve. The one-time Pro Bowler exited last Sunday’s game with a concussion. By landing on IR, he will have to miss at least three weeks.
Of course, staying healthy has been a major issue for Johnson. He played just one game in 2017 due to a dislocated wrist that required surgery. Last season, an ankle injury forced him to miss three games.
With Johnson sidelined by yet another injury, Houston has no choice but to give Duke Johnson a promotion to RB1.
Can Duke Johnson succeed in a starting role?
With their leading rusher out for at least three weeks, the Texans will turn to another Johnson to carry the ball. Unfortunately for Houston fans, Duke Johnson may not fare that much better than the teammate he just replaced in the starting lineup.
Although he came off the board nine picks earlier than David Johnson, Duke Johnson has never truly received an opportunity to be a full-time starter. Still, he has carved out a respectable career thanks to his pass-catching prowess. The former Miami Hurricanes star has caught 293 passes for 2,689 yards, and 11 TD in 86 career games.
Now, though, the 5-foot-9, 210-pounder must prove he can withstand the physical toll of playing all three downs. Since entering the NFL in 2015, Johnson has recorded just 416 carries.
Last week, the 27-year-old averaged a paltry 2.56 yards per carry against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Of course, part of that has to do with the Texans’ offensive line, which grades out as one of the worst units in the league. Unless Houston’s front five improves quickly, Johnson will struggle to find success on the ground.
Even after swapping out one Johnson for another, the Texans still have no chance of running the ball effectively this season.
And given the uncertain future of the franchise, who knows if that will improve next year.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.