Fantasy players take note: Duke Johnson unsure of his role

BEREA, Ohio -- Duke Johnson pays attention to fantasy football.

"I do, just because [of] the guys around me," the Cleveland Browns running back said Saturday. "My brothers play a lot."

Johnson played fantasy in college, and he said he hears from fans a lot on social media about their fantasy teams. Some of the contact is positive, some not so positive.

If Johnson truly follows fantasy, he would know that his role is much debated in fantasy circles. Johnson as a rookie had 61 receptions and 379 yards rushing. His backfield mate Isaiah Crowell ran for 706 yards and finished the season strong.

The debate in fantasy circles is the same as the debate among fans: How will Johnson and Crowell be used this season?

"As of now, not really sure," Johnson said. "First day of camp; we have a lot to put in, a lot to improve on."

That doesn't really clear up much.

The chalk thinking says that Crowell would be the starter and early-down back, with Johnson the change of pace. Crowell is more of a between-the-tackles back and appears to be slated toward early downs. However, on the first day of camp, Crowell caught the ball very well out of the backfield.

Johnson would seem to be the quick-footed change of pace, though he said he knows he has be more physical when running the ball -- something that coach Hue Jackson has stressed.

In the fantasy world, running backs who play the majority of downs are at a premium. If they are effective catching, as well as running, they move higher in rankings.

The Browns appear headed for a two-back approach, though the situation is hazy.

In his two seasons as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator, Jackson used a two-headed hydra in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Hill had the only 1,000-yard season (1,124 in 2014) and the bulk of the touchdowns, 20 rushing to Bernard's nine combined over two seasons.

Hill was the starter. If Crowell fills that role, he may have more touchdowns. But if Jackson is as enamored with Johnson as he says he is, Johnson will get plenty of touches. Asked if he can improve on his 61 receptions from 2015, Johnson said "that's the plan."

In the spring, Johnson summed up his role by saying "whatever they want us to do."

Early in camp, nothing has changed. The roles will shake out during preseason, and barring injury, may not be finalized until the regular season starts in Philadelphia in September.

As Johnson said: "Just have to wait and see how camp goes."