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2023 Flag Plants: Running Back Roschon Johnson

@DanT_NFL is back to continue his 2023 Flag Plants series. This time it is a rookie running back who can break out to be a real league winner!

Bijan Robinson may have been the talk of the running back class for 2023, but another talent was waiting in the wings. Rochon Johnson might have been the best “backup” in college football history. The duo of Bijan and Roschon gave the Texas Longhorns the best backfield in the country. Now Johnson lands in an ambiguous backfield in Chicago with one of the most mobile young quarterbacks in the sport. He will start by Week Five and is my 2023 Flag Plant at the running back position. Let’s explore why he might be the best second-round pick from this past rookie draft. 

Why Roschon?

Johnson As A Prospect

Interestingly enough, Johnson was recruited and enrolled as a quarterback at the University of Texas. During his first year, he sat behind Sam Ehlinger and didn’t see much work as a quarterback. However, he handled 123 carries as a running back and was highly efficient, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. In his sophomore year, he moved to running back full-time and formed one of the most excellent running back duos with freshman Robinson.

In his senior year, Roschon saw only 94 carries compared to 257 for Bijan. However, he was highly efficient with his work. Out of the 2023 draft class, he ranked fourth in yards after contact per touch, 17th in yards per attempt, and 20th in missed tackles forced. He turned heads at the Senior Bowl despite only being at practice for one day, and his athletic testing numbers came in as excellent with a Relative Athletic Score of 8.67, which was 12th best in this running back class.

Ambiguous Backfield

The Chicago Bears drafted Johnson with the 13th pick in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL draft. He was the eighth running back selected and the sixth player the Chicago Bears chose that weekend. Johnson joins a running back room of Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman, Travis Homer, and Trestan Ebner. General Manager Ryan Poles is entering his second year in charge of the roster, so it is essential to note which players he has brought in. Herbert is the last holdout from the previous general manager. The rest are all players brought in by Poles in free agency over the past two years.

In 2022, David Montgomery was the lead running back for the Chicago Bears. Herbert saw 129 carries compared to 201 for Montgomery. Herbert was efficient with his carries, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. Montgomery leaves behind 201 vacated carries that can be divided amongst Foreman, Homer, and Johnson. The Bears entered 2022 with only three running backs on the active 53-man roster. This is because they are among the few NFL teams still carrying two fullbacks. Current projections have Herbert, Foreman, and Johnson as the three, with Homer and Ebner being cut. This could change if the Bears carry one fullback instead of two in 2023. 

What Johnson Brings To The Team

In 2022, Justin Fields was sacked 55 times. Fields and Russell Wilson were privileged to lead the league in this statistic. Through his first two seasons, Fields has accumulated 91 sacks. With him playing in only 27 games, he averages almost three and a half per game. Things have to change in Chicago if Fields is to have a long career as the Bears starting quarterback. One of the most underrated aspects of the pass protection scheme is the role the running back plays. The good news for Chicago is that they drafted a valuable asset. 

Johnson is Chicago’s best pass-blocking running back for the 2023 season. For this study, I used PFF grades. Pass blocking is easier to assess by studying every snap of the All-22. Thankfully for us, PFF does precisely that. Ebner graded the best in pass protection in 2022, but that was on only three recorded pass-blocking snaps. Ebner is also a long shot to make the final 53-man roster. Of the remaining backs, Johnson grades out as the best pass blocker on the largest sample size. 

Trestan Ebner3 Snaps75.5 Grade
Roschon Johnson38 Snaps67.4 Grade
Travis Homer30 Snaps59.2 Grade
Kahlil Herbert32 Snaps54.4 Grade
D’Onta Foreman14 Snaps14.8 Grade
PFF Pass Blocking Grades for the Chicago Bears backfield

How To Capitalize

Startup Value

According to NerdsADP, Johnson is currently going as RB39 and the 129th overall player in Superflex startups. For comparison, Herbert goes as RB42, and Foreman goes as RB54. Johnson is already being drafted as the starter on his team, but not as an NFL starting running back. Some running backs that are going ahead of Johnson that I would be taking later include; James Conner, Tank Bigsby, and Kendre Miller. Take the value and grab Johnson a round ahead of ADP. 

Trade Market

The trade market for Johnson is not as hot as it should be. As we go through preseason, the desire for him will rise. Fantasy managers will start to release that Johnson will take over this backfield sooner rather than later. Below are some trades I found on the DynastyGM trade browser. All of these deals I would easily do right now!

Want exclusive access to my rookie rankings and those of over twenty fellow analysts? Subscribe to the #NerdHerd, where you get exclusive content, dynasty/rookie rankings, and DynastyGM! If you want 15% off  ANY SUBSCRIPTION, USE PROMO CODE “LUNA” or CLICK HERE.

I hope you enjoyed this piece on one of my 2023 flag plants. Be sure to check back often, as I will reveal all of them before the start of the 2023 season. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!

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