Cleveland Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson burst onto the scene with a huge performance in Thursday's 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos, making him a must-add for fantasy managers who hadn't already done so.
In his first career start, Johnson rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have calf injuries, and Hunt will miss at least two more weeks after being placed on injured reserve.
But it looks like Cleveland has a more than adequate replacement. Johnson's big night helped the Browns control the game with 36 minutes, 51 seconds in time of possession.
CBS Sports @CBSSports
What a night for D’Ernest Johnson.<br><br>• 3 carries in 2021 before Thursday night<br>• Filling in for injured Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt<br>• Career-high 22 carries & 146 yards<br>• First career rush TD<br><br>Cleveland has ANOTHER backfield playmaker. <a href="https://t.co/kqaZ1VPhcH">pic.twitter.com/kqaZ1VPhcH</a>
NFL Research @NFLResearch
D'Ernest Johnson's 146 rushing yards for the <a href="https://twitter.com/Browns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Browns</a> on <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThursdayNightFootball?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ThursdayNightFootball</a> are the most by a player in his first career start since his teammate Kareem Hunt had 148 rushing yards for the Chiefs in Week 1, 2017<a href="https://twitter.com/DernestJohnson2?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DernestJohnson2</a>
Fantasy managers who picked up Johnson prior to Thursday's contest have to be happy with their decision. The third-year back gained 53 yards more than expected, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats
D'Ernest Johnson was impressive in his first career start, gaining a career-high +53 rushing yards over expected.<br><br>Johnson outgained his expectation on 15 of his 22 carries (68.2%), the 2nd-highest rate in a game since 2018 (min. 20 carries).<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StatThat?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StatThat</a> | Powered by <a href="https://twitter.com/awscloud?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@awscloud</a> <a href="https://t.co/4Fv08qcGl9">pic.twitter.com/4Fv08qcGl9</a>
Johnson's high volume of carries bodes well for his fantasy potential. The Browns rushed the ball 33 times, matching Case Keenum's 33 pass attempts as he filled in for Baker Mayfield, who was out with a shoulder injury.
And as long as Chubb and Hunt are out, Johnson is a must-start. But even when Chubb returns, Johnson is worth a roster spot because he will likely take the touches that would go to Hunt.
In the five games that Chubb and Hunt played together, Hunt outperformed him three times despite Chubb's status as the starter. Johnson could be deployed in a similar role until Hunt returns.