The Houston Texans – which has seemingly become a theme – have suffered a major injury to a large piece of their offense. Running back Lamar Miller was diagnosed with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee after taking a hit during the preseason week three matchup versus the Dallas Cowboys. For the Texans, this provides another hurdle to overcome as they’ve lacked health offensively for multiple seasons now, never truly being allowed to field their entire offensive personnel in succession for an extended period of time.
Since joining the Texans in 2016, Miller has participated in 44 games, totaling 716 rushing attempts, 2,934 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 92 receptions, 678 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. His ability to play on all three downs made him a weapon for the Texans’ offense, even if he averaged only 4.1 yards per carry. A lot of that can be contributed to the lack of a skilled offensive line though, as Miller averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his first four seasons in Miami. Miller was a weapon in the receiving game as he converted 119 targets into 92 receptions, or 77%. Lastly, Miller proved to be a solid blocking running back, standing out head and shoulders among the remaining running backs in Houston.
Luckily for the Texans and Head Coach Bill O’Brien, they agreed on a trade securing the services of former Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson in return for a conditional 2020 fourth-round pick that could become a third-round pick dependant on being active for 10 games.
Johnson – who is among the premier receiving backs in football – was used sparingly in Cleveland, leaving much untapped potential which now has the ability to come to light. Johnson totaled only 299 rushing attempts, 1,286 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 235 receptions, 2,170 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns in four years with the Browns. Obviously, the receiving work was plentiful, though the Browns hardly capitalized on Johnson’s ability to create on the ground.
Now, with no clear roadblock to playing time, Johnson has the ability to receive as much work as his body can handle in 2019. The Texans recently waived running back D’Onta Foreman, leaving only Johnson, Buddy Howell, Josh Ferguson, and a handful of backend roster guys at the running back position. The outlier is clearly Johnson, who is on an island as it pertains to NFL production among that running back group.
Johnson is sure to receive a lot of work as an actual runner this season, allowing him to expand his game as an elusive runner who can create yardage on his own. His impact as a receiver will surely be utilized too, as quarterback Deshaun Watson regularly uses his mobility to extend plays and allow his skill players to capitalize on mismatches.
In 2018, Watson targeted his running back group (consisting: Miller, Alfred Blue, Foreman, and Tyler Ervin) 67 times. Though that number isn’t very high, it has the potential to increase due to the fact that Johnson is simply a much more nuanced receiver than anyone in that group was. The Texans are once again suffering injuries offensively as WR Keke Coutee is likely to miss at least week one, per O’Brien himself (and potentially more). The lack of a receiver who operates out of the slot like Coutee will allow Johnson to see more work as a checkdown option. Johnson’s skill-set even allows for him to be flexed out as a receiver outside of the numbers or in the slot, giving his head coach a chance to become creative when looking to get Johnson touches.
The loss of Lamar Miller will hurt the Texans because of his stability and veteran presence at the running back position, though the loss of one player often leads to another stepping up. Duke Johnson has the capabilities to help overcome the loss of Miller for the Houston Texans in 2019.