Lamar Miller Injury Elevates Duke Johnson’s Fantasy Ranking
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Duke Johnson
- With Texans running back Lamar Miller out for the season, our experts reveal their updated fantasy ranking for Duke Johnson.
The AFC South looks a lot different heading into the final week of the preseason. Andrew Luck is retired. Lamar Miller is out for the season with a torn ACL. And the fantasy and betting markets are on the move as a result.
Our experts Matthew Freedman, Chris Raybon and Sean Koerner sort through the fallout of Miller’s injury and how it changes their fantasy rankings for Duke Johnson and other Houston Texans’ players.
How Lamar Miller Injury Impacts Duke Johnson’s Fantasy Ranking
Heading into Miller’s first season with the Texans in 2016, there were questions about whether he was a true feature back. Miller’s previous career-high in touches per game was 15.9, but Bill O’Brien fed Miller 21.4 touches per contest in the back’s first season in Houston — a 34% increase.
Johnson’s career-high in touches per game currently stands at 10.3, and I’m projecting a similar 34% increase in Houston, which puts him at 14 touches per game. At this projection, he’s a fringe top-20 RB in PPR and just outside the top 25 in standard.
However, I believe this projection might be fairly conservative.
Johnson is a stocky 5-foot-9, 210-pounder who has never missed a game in four NFL seasons and handled 20.4 touches per game over his final two seasons in college at The U. The fewest touches an O’Brien lead back has averaged in Houston is Alfred Blue’s 13.2 in 2015, and Blue is nowhere near the pass-catcher Johnson is, so 14 touches per game could be a lot closer to Johnson’s floor than ceiling.
And I know many are worried about the offensive line, but Johnson’s pass-catching ability makes it less of a concern for him than it would have been for Miller. This is because the more Houston struggles on the ground, the more it will need to pass, increasing Johnson’s receiving upside.
O’Brien has admitted to a pass-catching back being a missing element in his attack, so whereas Miller spent a good chunk of his pass snaps blocking, this responsibility would shift more to the tight end group, particularly since Houston’s top pass-catching tight end from last season, Ryan Griffin, was let go.
With Miller out of the picture, this is now Johnson’s backfield.
He’s been a bit unfairly labeled as just a pass-catching specialist. I think he’s more than capable of taking on a 15-touch role and currently have him ranked as my RB26. The Texans typically don’t utilize their RB heavily in the passing game, but since O’Brien specifically brought in Duke, that could change.
One of the fallouts from Duke being on the field more could eat into Keke Coutee’s target shares, I’ve downgraded Coutee a tad.
As for the trio of backups, I’m avoiding trying to peg which one will emerge as the No. 2. There’s a chance that the Texans bring in a veteran back who could cut into Johnson’s outlook and take over as the backup.
Although it’s possible that the Texans could add a veteran — maybe Jay Ajayi or Carlos Hyde if the Chiefs cut him? — I expect Johnson to be the lead back for the majority of the season. The Texans traded a conditional fourth-rounder for him (it can elevate to a third-rounder), and that’s not an insignificant investment.
Duke is surrounded by nondescript rookies in Houston, and he’s one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, so at a minimum, he should see a lot of the backfield’s aerial workload.
On top of that, he’s under-appreciated as a runner. His career average of 4.3 yards per carry is more than adequate, and in college he was a strong producer for Miami in each of his three seasons. Entering the league, the player to whom he was most comparable (based on his college production, pass-catching ability, physical profile and draft position) was LeSean McCoy, who has been one of the best lead backs in the league over the past decade.
Duke definitely has within his range of outcomes a top-12, Shady-esque campaign.
Before Miller’s injury, I had Johnson ranked as the RB47 in PPR leagues. Now, he’s RB22.