With the news of Lamar Miller tearing his ACL during Saturday’s preseason game, Duke Johnson has immediately been thrust into a starting role with plenty of opportunity. What impact will that have on your season-long drafts? I’ll try to unpack that here and give you my thoughts on Duke Johnson and his fantasy outlook.
Entering the NFL in 2015 after his junior season at the University of Miami, Johnson left the ‘Canes as their all-time leading rusher. This came on the back of a 242 carry, 1,652-yard season, where he also chipped in an additional 421 yards on 38 receptions, totaling 13 touchdowns. Outside of his injury-shortened sophomore season, Johnson never had fewer than 27 catches for Miami.
His rookie year with Cleveland, he provided fantasy owners with a high-end RB3 year (RB28) while splitting the backfield with the perennially-hyped Isaiah Crowell. Johnson toted the rock 104 times, which has been the only time he’s had triple-digit carries. Since then, he’s had just 73, 82, and 40 rush attempts. Last year with Cleveland, he actually had more receptions (47) than carries (40).
Speaking of receptions, that is an area where Duke has never lacked. Johnson has been in the top-6 for running back receptions in three of his four seasons. Coincidentally, Lamar Miller’s highest catch total of his career has been Johnson’s lowest. With just 82 rush attempts in 2017, Johnson ended the season as RB14 in half-PPR scoring due to his receiving ability. We can’t overlook that.
While Johnson hasn’t “proven” he can handle 200+ carries in the NFL, I’m not exactly worried about that. Lamar Miller’s rush attempts have dropped every year since he took his talents from South Beach to Houston. The fact that Johnson doesn’t have the wear and tear on his body from multiple years of heavy usage bodes well for him. Duke Johnson and his fantasy outlook can still be a rosy one for 2019.
The latest ADP we have for Lamar Miller is 6.04, courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator. Duke Johnson should immediately jump into this range, and I’d feel comfortable taking him a round higher. We know that targets and catches are more valuable for fantasy points than are carries. I don’t have faith in the Texans defense to control the game clock. Also, I surely don’t have faith in the Texans offensive line to allow Bill O’Brien and Co. to become a ground-and-pound team. This offense is going to run through Deshaun Watson and the passing game.
There’s no reason to believe that Duke can’t have ~190 rush attempts and see 70+ targets. Those kinds of numbers put Johnson squarely in the mid-RB2 range. Last year, Kenyan Drake was RB18 with 120 rushes and 73 targets (53 catches) totaling 1,012 yards from scrimmage. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans’ pass-catchers haven’t proven the ability to stay healthy. If there is anyone this impacts, I think we could see Keke Coutee take the biggest hit. Last year, Coutee had an average depth of target (aDOT) of just 5.1.
The bottom line: Duke Johnson is safe to be taken where Lamar Miller had been (sixth round) and possibly has higher upside due to his pass-catching abilities. With how late Miller’s injury occurred, I don’t foresee major competition coming in to significantly drop his opportunity share. It’s possible Houston looks to someone like Carlos Hyde or one of the backs in Buffalo. But, at this point, they’d just be veteran depth. Rookies Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon provide some value as dynasty league taxi stashes, but neither will be massive fantasy impacts for 2019.
How do you feel about Duke Johnson and his fantasy outlook? Keep an eye on our rankings to see where we end up placing him!