Lamar Miller Torn ACL Fantasy Fallout: It's Duke Johnson's Time (and other speculation) - Roto Street Journal
Player Stock Ticker
For the Best Breaking Fantasy Football News, Bookmark our Fantasy Stock Watch now:    

Lamar Miller Torn ACL Fantasy Fallout: It’s Duke Johnson’s Time (and other speculation)

In the first season-changing injury of 2019, Texans RB Lamar Miller has torn his ACL. The fantasy implications are massive.

Though Miller hasn’t flashed any overly special talent in Houston, he’s been a sizable source of volume, recording 299, 274, and 235 touches over his three seasons (18.36 touches per game). Moreover, Houston’s “Ground Pie” has been substantial under HC Bill O’Brien, ranking 5th, 6th, 11th, and 4th in rushing attempts over his tenure. On the back of this usage, Miller has finished as the RB16, RB19, and RB22

Thus, his sudden removal leaves a huge slice of fantasy upside up for grabs within a potential Top-5 overall offense.

But who’ll take it?

Duke Johnson Surges

Behind Miller, the Texans boast one of the NFL’s weakest RB depth charts. Thankfully for their sake, they recently acquired Duke Johnson for a conditional fourth rounder (likely third). Behind him, the Texans have exactly 70 NFL carries for 208 yards, along with two late-to-undrafted rookies.

Needless to say, Johnson should get all the work he can handle. The ever-reliable John McClain expects the same:

Yet, many question if Johnson can handle the full-time load after he’s served exclusively a pass-catching specialist.

Don’t be one of them.

At Miami, Duke feasted as a true featured back. In fact, amidst a list of insanely talent UMiami RBs (Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore), Johnson ranks first in career rushing yardage (3519). He averaged 18.4 carries per game over his final two NCAA seasons, including over 20 touches per contest his senior year,  all while compiling 6.7 yards per attempt.

The man can shoulder the load and thrive.

Plus, with O’Brien acting as the de-facto GM, the Texans gave up significant draft capital — a likely third rounder — to acquire Duke. This suggests the team already envisioned a major role for him.

Even when projecting a timeshare, we loved Duke’s fit here, especially as a receiver. He has been among the league’s best pass-catching backs since entering the league, and should provide the perfect easy-outlet for Deshaun Watson. Per PFF, Johnson ranks:

  • Fifth in career receiving grade (90.9) among RBs with at least 100 targets since 2015
  • Fourth in percentage of first down or TD receptions (44%)
  • Second in forced missed tackles per reception (.34)
  • Seventh in yards per route run (1.73)

He’s also just one misused 2018 away from 74 receptions on 93 targets, which facilitated over 200 PPR FPs and an RB11 finish (RB15 in half)

Considering how often Watson will be scrambling for his life behind this horrendous offensive line, Johnson could be a God send as a security blanket. He’s very instinctive as a route-runner, and will know how to get open and in Watson’s line of vision. when plays break down.

Granted, many have (rightfully) pointed out O’Brien’s lack of RB-targets and Watson’s hesitance to use his backs in this capacity. Since taking over in 2014, these are the Texans ranks in RB targets:

  • 2018: 32nd (68 total RB targets, 35 to the top RB)
  • 2017: 28th (86 total, 35 top)
  • 2016: 28th (83 total, 39 top)
  • 2015: 11th (114 total, 31 top)
  • 2014: 26th (90 total, 59 top)

Yet, the obvious counter is: they’ve never had a back like Johnson. Plus, as Cam Newton showed last year, QBs often mature as throwers, learning the value of using short-to-intermediate range throws to their YAC beasts instead of constantly gunning for the big shots. Watson could show similar growth with Duke, and we expect at least 70 targets and 50 receptions as just a receiver.

Now with Miller done, Johnson’s rushing upside is also astronomical.

As mentioned, Duke’s fully capable of shouldering a workhorse rushing load. He’s simply never been handed the reigns.

Thankfully, with the Texans, Duke will not only now find ample volume, but a perfect-fitting scheme. Last year, the Texans evolved to feature far more outside zone down the stretch, and saw their running-game explode.

Conveniently, when scouting the former ‘Cane, an NFC RB coach called Duke the “Best outside zone back in this draft and it’s not close.” Moreover, Duke’s other “Scouting Report Strengths” align with exactly what a zone runner needs: strong vision and patience, and seamless acceleration and change of direction once the lane is identified:

  • Has lightning in his feet.
  • Has hips and feet to stop and start without stalling.
  • Rare ability on stretch plays to hit cutback lanes that other backs can’t get to.
  • Runs with patience and a well-timed burst. Has great feel as zone-scheme, one-cut runner.
  • Changes direction without breaking stride.
  • Shows no fear when getting downhill.
  • Has second gear around the corner and can erase the angles.

If Duke remains healthy and absorbs the 210+ carries Miller has seen each year, he’d be a real threat for 1,000+ on the ground, in addition to 400+ through the air.

As such, he’s risen all the way up to 46 overall on my Big Board as my RB24. Another “big back” will undoubtedly carve out some time, but Johnson’s fit and potential usage within this high-powered offense are pristine. He’s one of my favorite “middle round” season-winner candidates.

Other Texans RBs: 

Honestly, sifting through the garbage-heap behind Johnson is really just a guessing game.

The Houston Chronicle cites UDFA Damarea Crockett as the next-man-up after Duke. An undrafted free agent from Missouri, Crockett brings prototypical size (5’10”, 225 lbs) alongside blazing 4.4 forty speed. He’s had some flashes this preseason, racking up 83 yards on 17 carries (4.88) along with touchdown in three preseason games. Most recently, he ripped off 15-yard and 11-yard runs against the Cowboys before resting, suggesting he’s climbed the depth chart.

Besides Crockett and Johnson, Taiwan Jones, UDFA Karan Higdon Jr., Buddy Howell and Josh Ferguson are all vying for position in the wake of Miller’s injury. None are worth speculative adds outside Crockett (8% owned)

Considering the sorry state of this RBs room, we expect a move to be made.

Other Potential FA & Trade Options

Potential Free Agents

1) Jay Ajayi (7% owned) the clearest and highest-upside solution

Whether you’ve already drafted or need a new late-round stash, Ajayi makes almost too much sense for the Texans. I’d cut any type of useless bench addition, or my K / DEF just to roster Ajayi now as a speculative add.

Granted, Ajayi is coming off an ACL tear of his own. Still, he was medically-cleared by the infamous “Dr. Andrews” in late July, and is only two seasons removed from a 1423 total yard, 8 TDs sophomore breakout that had many considering him a rising star. He was also on a 1205 yard pace once traded to the Eagles, and is the only one of four NFL backs to rip off back-to-back 200 yard games.

Simply put: the flashes of talent are real. At his best, Ajayi is explosive, powerful, and slippery all at once, which lauded him many Marshawn Lynch comparables. In an early-down, goalline role with the Texans, he’d drip in RB2 upside that comes free right now.

Other (Likely) Free Agents:

  • Doug Martin (2% owned) was just released from the Raiders. Though sapped at this point, he could provide veteran insurance and a steady goalline role if added.
  • Carlos Hyde (23%) has long been a rumored cut candidate. Andy Reid all-but-confirmed he’ll be sent packing after Hyde was the fourth-runner into their “Preseason Week 3” dress rehearsal. Hyde’s been on a steep downhill descent since he racked up 1288 total yard, 8 TDs, and 59 receptions in 2017. Even still, he’s not far off from Miller’s talent-level, and could provide similar plodding RB3 numbers.

Other RBs who could be released: Elijah McGuire, Kenneth Dixon

Potential Trade Candidate:

The Texans are reportedly attempting to move holdout franchisee Jadeveon Clowney. Thus, a package that includes an RB and ideally some line reinforcement could definitely be in the cards.

Granted, no one expects the team to make a blockbuster for current holdouts Melvin Gordon or Ezekiel Elliott… even though the team is flush with enough cap-space to make it work.

Thus, here’s some trade scenarios we consider realistic.

1) LeSean McCoy Could Explode with Texans

We’ve been incredibly down on McCoy since last season. The Bills overall offense has been putrid, and now he’s staring at a potential four-headed nightmare between him, Frank Gore, impressive rookie Devin Singletary, and TJ Yeldon.

However, McCoy has flashed some juice in his opportunities this preseason. A departure from Buffalo’s shackling situation could be exactly what McCoy needs for a late-career Renaissance. He comes with a large cap-hit, which has reporters speculating makes him easily-expendable for the Bills.

The Texans lack any veteran presence or insurance behind Duke. McCoy is a proven every-down weapon who could share the load and offer viable back-up security if Duke proves incapable or gets injured. After being an “Avoid” all offseason, he’d immediately shoot into my Top Eight rounds.

Eagles RBs

The Eagles remain entirely log-jammed at RB after acquiring both Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders for draft capital. This has most expecting one or both of Wendell Smallwood or Corey Clement to be sent packing.

Thus, it’s entirely plausible Philadelphia tries to accrue some sort of late-round value in a trade. Neither back would be a major threat to Duke, but would still be worth late-round Penny Stock consideration considering the upside of the situation here. That’s better than their unranked status right now.

Bottom Line

Though unfortunate, Miller’s ACL tear has opened the door for some serious new fantasy value to emerge. This is a high-volume role in a high-octane offense, and needs to be monitored to the fullest.

Most likely, Miller’s removal will unlock a limitless ceiling for Duke Johnson. If he is bathed in the volume Miller has (inexplicably) enjoyed (18.6 touches per game), Johnson will go down as a steal anywhere in Round 5 or beyond. He was already set to thrive as a pass-catcher, but the rushing uptick could make him a high-end RB2.

Elsewhere, speculative adds on Jay Ajayi (7%) and Carlos Hyde (23%) make sense, as the TD upside for a “big back” is sky high in this offense. Meanwhile, LeSean McCoy now comes with a dash of more upside on Draft Day in the off chance he is traded. If so, he’d immediately regain consideration within the Top-80 picks as someone fully capable of a three-down load should Duke falter or get hurt.

For more crucial takeaways from Preseason Week 3, including Andrew Luck’s retirement, Dede Westbrook’s new “Target Hog” status, and nearly 10 sleepers, tune in to the “Fantasy Market Check” this Tuesday @ 6pm EST on Facebook Live.


  • Founder of Roto Street Journal. Lover of workhorse backs, target hog wideouts, and Game of Thrones. Aspiring to be the "Brady" and "Leo" of the fantasy universe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.