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Sleeper Cell

5 touchdowns in 5 games -- is Juwan Johnson now an every week TE1?

by Rivers McCown
Updated On: November 22, 2022, 2:17 pm ET

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There are two TE1s in New Orleans. One of them, as you know, is Taysom Hill, who cheats the system by actually getting rushing attempts and generally being involved in anything the Saints do on offense. But then there's also Juwan Johnson.

Johnson is seventh in standard TE scoring this year, eighth in PPR. He's been worth roughly as much as Zach Ertz or Dallas Goedert. He's been worth more than George Kittle and Cole Kmet. Johnson has caught five touchdowns in his last five games, and has scored in three in a row. More importantly, with Michael Thomas finally out of our injury blurbs after being placed on injured reserve, Johnson has sustained the challengers for his role. He out-targeted Jarvis Landry last week. The Saints will target Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara more than anyone else, but Johnson has been able to remain the third pass catcher.

Splits (that have) Happened

juwansplits

Just like Kamara, Johnson has been a major beneficiary of Andy Dalton taking over the starting role. He was scoreless in three Jameis Winston starts, with little to do in the offense. But if you look at the raw target numbers, Johnson has been a major part of the offense all along. When Adam Trautman suffered an ankle injury, Johnson got on our streamer radar against Arizona on Thursday night, delivering two touchdowns. 

This is kind of who Johnson is: He has some red zone ability, but he also won't be leading the team in yardage at any point. Johnson has a 12.94% share of his team's air yards this year, which is a number that is below Austin Hooper and above Scotty Miller. Seven of Johnson's targets were delivered in the red zone, putting him well within reach of most of fantasy's mortal TE1s. Travis Kelce leads the entire NFL with 21. Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson are in the top 10. 

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Let's actually watch him play football

Listen, when I drew the Saints-Rams game this past weekend, I was kind of surprised by how well the Saints played offense. I think most of it is because they never really trailed by a ton -- they need that Taysom package to be effective and interesting -- but Johnson showed me some skills I didn't think he had in the tool kit. Look at him box out Jalen Ramsey:

They actually askEd Johnson about this after the game and he said that they are trusting him to run Michael Thomas' patterns in the red zone: 

Here's one of his other targets from the game -- dare I say it -- a scorching Andy Dalton throw dropped right in the bucket, and Johnson took advantage for a big gain:

It's hard to ignore where we're at in fantasy football and we all know that this tight end position has been absolutely decimated the last few weeks. David Njoku is coming back, and I'd rather start him than Johnson. But Goedert is down, Kyle Pitts is down, Ertz is down. We're in a place where there really are about 2.5 TE1s depending on what you think of T.J. Hockenson's target shares since joining Minnesota and Hill qualifying at TE in your league. 

Johnson doesn't feel like he should be an upper-echelon TE1, but he's shown enough to make me feel comfortable ranking him inside the rest of season top 12 at the position. The frequent red zone targets over the past five weeks matter -- the fact that they're having him replace Michael Thomas' role on some passes matters -- and he's been able to slip some tackles and be efficient. I have concerns about this offense as a whole and I don't love that Johnson is working as the third target. But pecking order can change, and as we've gone over, this is a rough situation at the position. I'd have no qualms starting Johnson this week. 

Rivers McCown

Rivers McCown has been writing about football since 2009, most notably at Football Outsiders and covering the Texans for The Athletic. He most recently wrote that thing you just read. He hails from Houston, TX, and has not been traded to Arizona for magic beans yet. You can say nice things about him on Twitter @riversmccown, and you can yell at him on Twitter @RotoPat.