Full disclosure: I am fully in love with Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson. He swooned me utterly and completely on Sunday night. You can hear it in my voice during this week’s PODcast. You can read between the lines in my article from earlier in the week, declaring his performance against the New England Patriots even better than you probably think it was.
But I am far from alone in that thinking, and the more you dig into Johnson and his performance thus far in the NFL, the more impressive it gets.
Football Outsiders has a weekly column called “Quick Reads” in which they rank the performances of the skill position players by their value. They use a metric called DYAR, or defense-adjusted yards above replacement. DYAR is a stat “which compares the performance of each player, in terms of DVOA, to a replacement-level baseline rather than the league average for that position, then translates that total into yardage.” (learn more here.)
Among all Week 3 running backs, only Adrian Peterson (19 runs, 120 yards, 2 TDs) and Christian McCaffrey (28 rushes, 184 yards) were more valuable to their team than Kerryon Johnson per Football Outsiders.
“He had six first downs on the ground, with four runs of 10 yards or more. He was hit for no gain just once, and that came with Detroit up by 13 points in the fourth quarter,” Vincent Verhei wrote.
The value of his positive rushes we already knew about, but Verhei brings up a good point about his lack of negative plays. Last year, the Lions offense was seriously limited by sacks, and negative rushing plays that set the team back in down and distance. Johnson not only had no negative carries on Sunday, but he only had one that was stopped at the line of scrimmage. As a result, the Lions faced a lot of third-and-mediums and third-and-shorts against the Patriots.
I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Jeremy, we know that Johnson was good, but where’s the love for the offensive line?”
I hear you, and you’re right. Johnson’s performance never happens without the men up front making holes like this:
Ragnow & Glasgow..1st quarter runs..parting their A gap like the red sea: pic.twitter.com/CNa4vwD4vm— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 25, 2018
But LeGarrette Blount ran behind that same offensive line against the same Patriots defensive line and only managed 3.0 yards per carry. Johnson’s night was special, and that’s further evident after looking at this stat from ESPN’s “NFL Matchup”:
We showed which teams got the most yards after contact in the run game.— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) September 26, 2018
How about which PLAYERS? These guys break tackles and create on their own, which is hugely valuable.#GoNiners #FightForEachOther #BroncosCountry #KeepPounding #DallasCowboys #OnePride #duuuval #SeizeTheDEY pic.twitter.com/4FmX10zKc3
Johnson isn’t just taking advantage of a good offensive line, he’s creating his own yardage, and that combination should scare the living crap out of opposing defenses.