HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans couldn’t have known when they made the move, but trading for Duke Johnson during training camp ended up being a huge addition after Lamar Miller's season-ending ACL injury suffered in Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
While the Texans will likely add another veteran running back, Johnson gives Houston a legitimate starting option in the backfield, a player who is ready to hit the ground running with Miller out.
Of course, losing Miller is a huge blow for the Texans. Less than two weeks ago, running backs coach Danny Barrett was excited about what could be with a running back tandem of Miller and Johnson: "I think the sky is the limit as far as what the potential is that we can get out of both of those guys,” he said.
Since Miller signed a four-year deal with the Texans in 2016, he has accounted for 51.2 percent of the Texans’ rushing yardage, according to Pro Football Focus. Since then, Miller has the fifth-most rushing yards in the regular season. Last season, Miller ran for 973 yards on 210 attempts and five touchdowns.
Johnson has never missed an NFL game in his four-year career, but he has never been a three-down back, instead being utilized mostly in passing situations. Johnson’s highest usage came his rookie season with the Browns, when he rushed 104 times for 379 yards. He has thrived as a pass-catcher, though, finishing with at least 47 catches in all four of his NFL seasons.
Now, without Miller, the Texans will look to add a back who can share the load with Johnson. Don’t expect Houston to make a huge trade for a premier back like holdouts Melvin Gordon or even Ezekiel Elliott. Even though Houston has the salary-cap space available, the front office is more likely to look at cheaper options -- and one that won’t require a huge trade piece in return.
Ouch. Fully expect the Texans to be in the RB market. Elijah McGuire, Kenneth Dixon, Carlos Hyde, Corey Clement, LeSean McCoy all names I'd keep an eye on. https://t.co/snk4FNEoy1— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) August 25, 2019
On Saturday night, O’Brien said while it’s “very difficult to lose Lamar,” he thinks the Texans' “backfield situation ... with depth, is actually decent.” Behind Johnson on the depth chart right now are Damarea Crockett, Taiwan Jones, Karan Higdon, Josh Ferguson and Buddy Howell. Houston also has fullback Cullen Gillaspia, a seventh-round pick. If Jones, Howell or Gillaspia make the team, it will be primarily to contribute on special teams.
Behind Miller, the Texans have three running backs listed on their depth chart who have recorded a rushing attempt in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That group has combined for 1,494 career rushing yards. Johnson accounts for all but 208 of those rushing yards.
Entering training camp the Texans appeared to have the pieces to be a dominant offense. But with the injuries to Miller and the less serious ankle injury to slot receiver Keke Coutee, Houston needs to find a veteran to complement Johnson, the way Johnson was supposed to complement Miller.