Johnson not only has appeal as a punishing rusher who bulldozed through SEC defenses, but also as a pass catcher. He's kind of like David Montgomery in that regard, but it's unlikely he'll begin the year working in a role similar to that of Montgomery. The Bears coaching staff seems focused on using two backs in a tandem, something Johnson was sort of used to at Texas behind Bijan Robinson. In time, he might overtake both Khalil Herbert and D'Onta Foreman to be the Bears' lead back, but it might be in 2024. That's why Johnson is just a depth RB in Fantasy for 2023 (Round 10 feels about right), but carries value between 15th and 22nd overall in rookie-only Dynasty drafts.
Johnson showed he can gain yardage in chunks and block well in pass protection, despite Bijan Robinson limiting his opportunities.
Johnson joins a crowded Bears backfield, but there’s room for him climb the depth chart. We like his upside and will be watching the competition through summer. Though this backfield could frustrate fantasy managers throughout the season.
What We Learned Last YearJohnson was selected in the 4th round.He initially committed to Texas as a QB recruit but changed to RB midway through his freshman season.Teammate and current Falcons rookie RB Bijan Robinson overshadowed him the past three seasons. Johnson actually set career highs in carries and receptions as a freshman. Even then he trailed Keaontay Ingram, a 2022 sixth-round pick by the Cardinals.Johnson finished his final season with 93 carries, 554 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 128 receiving yards, and 6 total TDs.Despite receiving limited opportunity, Johnson finished within the top 10 of college RBs (min. 80 attempts) in Pro Football Focus elusive rating in three consecutive seasons from 2020-22. His yards per carry ranked among the Big 12’s top 10 RBs all four seasons he played.Johnson measured in at the NFL Combine at 6’0, 219 pounds with a 4.58-second 40 time.
What to Expect in 2023It won’t show in the box score, but Johnson is a stellar pass blocker. You’ll have a greater appreciation for this facet of his game by diving into C.H. Herms’ prospect evaluation. This matters because being a good blocker helps RBs find their way onto the field in passing situations.That’s a potential differentiator in Johnson’s competition with Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman for playing time and touches.QB Justin Fields obviously factors heavily into the rushing offense as well. Chicago had the league’s second most rushing attempts last year, but Bears RBs ranked just 14th in that category.Johnson will likely compete with free-agent addition D’Onta Foreman for short-yardage work. Both outweigh Khalil Herbert by more than 10 pounds. The rookie already appears way ahead of Foreman in passing-game acumen, though.
Johnson was selected in the fourth round of April's draft. The Texas product is one of the biggest backs in this year's rookie class (6-foot-4, 219 lbs.) and also one of the most effective on a per-play basis. Granted he only touched the ball 107 times, but no back in this class had a better efficiency profile last season. Johnson averaged 3.96 yards after contact (fourth best), posted a 5.1 broken tackle rate (second) and managed a 5.9 eluded tackle rate (fourth). Johnson's limited collegiate usage is a bit concerning (he never cleared 123 carries or 31 targets in a season), but his size, efficiency and reliability (one career fumble) make him an intriguing sleeper, especially in a Chicago backfield led by Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman and Travis Homer. Johnson has a path to a rookie-season role, so he's an appealing late-round flier.