Just how necessary is a player like Duke Johnson on the Houston Texans roster now that David Johnson is around as a dual-threat running back?
There are many eerie parallels linking David Johnson and Duke Johnson.
For starters, they both have the same last name and first name initial. Presumably, one will have the nameplate “Da. Johnson” and one will have “Du. Johnson” on the back of their jerseys — unless Duke wants to go by his real name, which is Randy.
They also both play running back obviously, and as of 2020, they both play for the same team in the Houston Texans.
Here’s where it really gets kooky though: both men were taken in the same round (third) of the 2015 NFL Draft — and just nine picks apart from one another.
While David spent all five of his initial seasons in the league with the Arizona Cardinals, Duke spent the first four of his five years as a pro with the Cleveland Browns before coming over to Houston last August via trade.
Thanks to the DeAndre Hopkins trade, David is now the second “D. Johnson” on the Texans roster set to play running back this season.
But while Duke Johnson was drafted just a bit higher, it’s David Johnson who opens the year atop the depth chart down in Houston.
Even though David lost his starting gig last season with the Cards to Kenyan Drake, he’s rushed for nearly twice as many yards and nearly five times as many touchdowns over the course of his career as Duke. While David also has four more touchdowns than Duke through the air, Duke does hold the edge in career receiving by a margin of 361 yards.
That said, Duke hasn’t missed a game in five seasons. David missed all but one game in 2017, and he only played in 13 games last season.
With that added injury context, it’s easy to understand why David takes the top spot on the depth chart as of now. He’s done more in the same amount of time than Duke, and it’s also hard to forget just how electric and unstoppable David was in 2016.
Is there room for two Johnsons in Houston?
The biggest difference between this year and last year when it comes to the Texans’ running back rotation — at least on paper — comes down to style.
Duke Johnson’s addition made a lot of sense last year, as he did well in his role as a complementary piece to Carlos Hyde. While Hyde was the tough, grind-it-out between the tackles runner, Johnson was the one who could catch passes and bail out Deshaun Watson on third down.
Hyde is gone though, and in his place is a player very similar to Duke Johnson — and arguably better at the same things that Duke is good at. David Johnson is a true two-way running back, style in the same vein as Christian McCaffrey, Marshall Faulk, Saquon Barkley, and others who can flourish as receivers just as well as they can as running backs.
Does David Johnson’s arrival, then, make Duke Johnson superfluous in the Texans offense?
While some might argue the benefits of having two excellent pass-catching running backs on the same roster (and potentially on the field at the same time), Houston might end up wishing they had someone a bit beefier and less injury-prone at one of their two top RB spots.
David Johnson could certainly end up rumbling for a ton of yards on the ground this year, but he’s not exactly someone you think of as being a paragon of sturdiness and stability in health. It’s almost like the two Johnsons exist to be injury insurance for one another — rather than working in complementary roles like Hyde and Duke did last season.
At the end of the day, the Texans will be thrilled if David Johnson can produce anything like the kind of stat line he did four years ago.
If that ends up eating into Duke Johnson’s snaps and opportunities on offense though — which were already limited enough as it was last year — you’d best believe the ex-Brown will start to grumble and clamor for a trade again.