Damaris Johnson: Up and Comer
By Joe Kilroy (@KilroyDFW)
If you’re like most fantasy owners and particularly those of us in dynasty leagues, uncovering “sleepers” well ahead of the rest of the pack is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this hobby of ours aside from winning the league championship.
In my last article I called special attention to Andre Roberts as an “up and comer” many are overlooking within the Arizona Cardinals organization. In this week’s article I’m going to dig a bit deeper and place the spotlight on little known Damaris Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Following his senior year of high school Johnson was a highly touted collegiate prospect by a number of scouting services. Scout.com rated him as the 21st ranked football prospect in the state of Louisiana. Rivals.com meanwhile graded him as a four-star prospect, 11th best in the state, and 28th in the nation. Despite these high accolades however, Johnson didn’t receive much attention from any of footballs collegiate powerhouses. This was at least partly due to his small 5’8”, 175-lb stature.
Johnson did draw interest from schools such as TCU, Memphis, and Louisiana Tech, but ultimately chose the University of Tulsa to spend his collegiate career. While there he managed to become the NCAA’s all-time all-purpose yardage leader upon completion of his 2010 junior season. It’s a record that still stands today and is one he could have built upon if not for a season long suspension that cost him his senior year due to felony embezzlement charges he eventually plead guilty to in exchange for a one-year deferred sentence, $500 fine, and 80-hours of community service.
Having missed his senior year of college Johnson went undrafted in 2012 before signing as a rookie free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles on April 29th. The initial purpose of the Johnson signing was to provide the Eagles with a bona fide return specialist. To that extent Johnson accumulated 291 yards on 26 punt returns which he highlighted with a 98-yard return for a touchdown during a Sunday Night Football contest against the Dallas Cowboys. His average of 11.2 yards per punt return ranked ninth amongst the league in that category.
Along with his return duties Johnson managed to post 19 receptions for 256 yards receiving. In his only start of the season, which came in place of an injured Jeremy Maclin during a Week 3 outing against the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson was targeted 11 times and caught 5 passes for 84 yards. While these statistics alone aren’t enough to create a worthwhile buzz surrounding Johnson the recent reports about him from the local Philadelphia sports scribes are.
So far Chip Kelly, the new head coach of the Eagles, has done a pretty good job keeping secret the offense he plans to execute in Philadelphia. The little bits of information that have come forth however indicate he plans to run an up-tempo, no-huddle attack that will feature plenty of rushing opportunities for LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. The passing game meanwhile will be reliant upon a quarterback that gets rid of the ball quickly while targeting players in open space that can create big gains after the catch. It’s that last bit of information that has locals in the Philadelphia area excited about the prospects Damaris Johnson may hold in Kelly’s offense.
Johnson isn’t viewed as a pure “speedster,” but he’s always been regarded as a playmaker with the ball in his hands whether it be as a return man, wide receiver, or ball handler out of the backfield (he ran the ball 122 times for 1062 yards and 8 touchdowns during his three years at Tulsa). It’s the elusiveness needed to be such a player that suggests Johnson will be a natural fit within Kelly’s offensive scheme.
In fact, just a few weeks ago when asked which skill-position players are likely to thrive within Kelly’s system Jeremy Maclin didn’t single out himself or any of the other prominent names comprising the Eagles roster. Instead he made note of Damaris Johnson.
While Johnson is likely to sit behind DeSean Jackson and Maclin on the Eagles depth chart he stands a realistic chance of grabbing hold of the slot position veteran Jason Avant has occupied the past few years under Andy Reid. Avant is one of the Eagles primary leaders in the locker room, runs routes well, and possesses good hands, but his athletic skill set doesn’t project well in Chip Kelly’s offense.
At the moment it is still far too early to pinpoint any kind of noteworthy projections upon Damaris Johnson, but I’m currently of the belief he can at least double last year’s production and finish 2013 with no less than 40 receptions for 550 yards or more. If things were to really fall in line for him a 60-catch season could be on the horizon. It would be an impressive feat for him to build upon heading into his third year in 2014 if that proves to be the case.
For now he’s someone to roster in deeper dynasty leagues and monitor throughout training camp and the preseason. If he doesn’t pan out it’s not as if it will cost you anything to invest in him now. And should he eventually breakthrough as a notable fantasy option you’ll feel good knowing you were ahead of the curve when you obtained him.