The Houston Texans placed running back Ben Tate on the IR heading into Week 16, putting Dennis Johnson in the spotlight for fantasy football owners.
The NFL on ESPN provided the news:
Johnson is an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas who has been used sparingly by Houston this season. He's only carried the ball 37 times for 154 yards, and he's added another 45 yards on six receptions.
But his time as a bench-warmer is over, and he'll likely carry the load for the Texans in Week 16 when the team hosts the Denver Broncos.
This is an extremely favorable matchup for the young running back.
Denver has been one of the league's worst teams defensively (No. 25) against fantasy running backs in 2013, allowing 18.6 points per game.
Since surprisingly shutting down Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9, Denver has given up at least 19 points in its last four games, allowing six rushing touchdowns in those contests.
Michael Fabiano, who is NFL.com's fantasy football guru, rates Johnson as a potential starter this week:
Even without Arian Foster, who has missed most of the season with an injury, the Texans have been successful when running the ball this season, averaging 4.3 yards as a team. Johnson has done his part to keep that average where it is, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on his limited attempts.
Unfortunately, Denver is likely going to light up the scoreboard against Houston in Week 16—as it usually does (38.2 points per game)—meaning Houston will likely be playing from behind. This means Matt Schaub, who is playing for an injured Case Keenum according to Nick Mathews of the Houston Chronicle, will be throwing the ball a lot in order to try to keep pace.
If you're looking for a player to spark your fantasy football championship team, then you'd be smart to look elsewhere. Johnson could have a huge game. It's possible. However, it's more likely he'll put up mediocre numbers in a game that will feature more passing than running.
However, looking ahead to Week 17, Johnson is worth a more serious look for those who play in the regular-season finale. The Texans will be in Tennessee for the final game of the year, and the Titans give up the third-most fantasy points to running backs in the NFL.
For Houston, this season has featured one disappointment after another. In the wake of Tate's injury comes the logical question about what the team will do in 2014. Tate will be a free agent, and he's not sure he wants to return, as noted by Will Grubbs of Sports Radio 610 in Houston, via CBS Houston:
“That’s a tough question to answer. I can’t say, ‘No, I don’t want to be here,” Tate Said. “But I can’t say I do want to be here, because they invested in Arian.”
If Johnson puts together a solid couple of games to close out the season, Houston will likely be inclined to let Tate hit the market and keep him as Foster's backup in 2014.
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