Impact of Lamar Miller injury, how to value Cam Newton, Dante Pettis and more


While worldwide fantasy football managers continue to deal with the aftermath of the stunning Andrew Luck retirement decision, the Lamar Millertorn ACLfrom that same Saturday night is arguably just as relevant for redraft leagues. In fact, noting the difference in depth at quarterback and running back, it might be more crippling for those looking for replacements. Miller, a useful if unremarkable fantasy asset, was going ahead of Luck in most leagues for good reason.

The Houston Texans lost Miller to the dreaded shredded knee, but Duke Johnson Jr., acquired mere weeks ago from the Cleveland Browns, is already rostered in most every fantasy league -- I had them ranked consecutively in Round 7 -- and few have heard of the other running backs on the squad. In fact, it seems quite likely Houston will soon add another running back from outside the organization, further sullying the clarity fantasy managers crave in this week, the biggest one for drafting. Perhaps it is a free agent like Jay Ajayi or LeGarrette Blount, or someone possibly made available like Josh Adams or Adrian Peterson.

First, there is Johnson, an elite pass-catching running back, but one who averaged just 74.8 rushing attempts in his four seasons with the Browns. A unique but untraditional talent, he actually averaged more receiving targets than that per season (75.8) and caught 58.8 passes per season, despite disappointing usage last season. The other Houston running backs are Buddy Howell, Damarea Crockett, Taiwan Jones, Josh Ferguson, Karan Higdon and Molly McButter -- did I make up one of these running back names ... or more? -- and perhaps a viable Miller fill-in looms, but none I would covet in a deep league.

Johnson is currently a 10th-round ESPN pick and outside the top 30 at running back, but those figures will change soon, perhaps too aggressively. He is capable of more rushing volume, but let us stop short of proclaiming him a safe top-20 running back or worthy of Round 5. He could be what Tarik Cohen was last season, which is good but not elite. Austin Ekeler could be the starter for the Los Angeles Chargers with Melvin Gordon sitting out. I like Ekeler more. Rookies like David Montgomery and Miles Sanders offer considerably more upside, even if other running backs on their teams remain relevant. I just cannot see the Texans giving Johnson the 210 rushing attempts Miller had last season.

As for Miller, hardly a coveted selection but rostered in all formats, his last top-10 fantasy season came in 2015 with the Miami Dolphins. Exceptionally fast but lacking in elusiveness and instincts for the position, Miller remained an RB2 in each of his three Houston seasons, so he was hardly someone to ignore in drafts. He just was not ... awesome. Now, he is done for the season and those in dynasty leagues should move on as well. Who knows what happens with Miller in a year?

For those who selected Miller, there is little use in whining about it, and I would use the roster spot immediately on the best flex option available, not necessarily a running back. After all, Miller was not one of your top two running backs, one presumes, so you are looking for flex choices. Perhaps it is even a tight end. The point is, it seems unlikely another Texan is the best available, but Darwin Thompson (Chiefs), Tony Pollard (Cowboys), Dion Lewis (Titans), Jalen Richard (Raiders), Kalen Ballage (Dolphins), Justin Jackson (Chargers) and Justice Hill (Ravens) are among the more attractive running backs still available in at least half of ESPN's standard formats.

Meanwhile, Adam Humphries (Titans), John Brown (Bills), Marquise Brown(Ravens), Deebo Samuel (49ers), DaeSean Hamilton (Broncos) and Hunter Renfrow (Raiders) fit the description at wide receiver. Nobody would compare the loss of Luck to Miller in a real-life NFL sense, but for fantasy purposes, for 2019, well, think about it. Finding a quarterback is not terribly difficult. It is a far different story at running back or flex.

Other NFL weekend thoughts

Good for the Washington Redskinsfor making it clear which quarterback starts in Week 1 at Philadelphia, but those investing in rookie Dwayne Haskins should not panic in the least. Underwhelming veteran Case Keenum was always starting Week 1 and perhaps even Month 1. Haskins, the exciting Ohio State product, is the future. The "announcement" tells us little we already did not know.

Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, however, is a top-10 fantasy quarterback and the sight of him leaving the field last Thursday with a foot injury and walking through the stadium bowels in a walking boot scared many. For now, do not worry. Newton could play in Week 1 and while it is easy to presume he will not be the same running option, do not presume it. I might be more interested in finding a Week 1 fill-in in case Newton sits, but if he starts, I start him, and I think he is starting.

As for Miami, we still do not know which quarterback is starting Week 1 and, honestly, I do not know if it matters for our purposes. How many Dolphins are universally rostered? In ESPN leagues, we have running back Kenyan Drake, who might sit out Week 1 or Month 1, and that is all. Kenny Stills and Kalen Ballage lurk in the 30-50% rostered range, though a report came out this weekend that Stills might not be a Dolphin in a week! I think Josh Rosen might be a decent quarterback someday for some franchise, but probably not with the mess around him in 2019.

Why do we keep hearing so much about the Dante Pettis struggles and his depth chart hierarchy but news from other camps to this nature is so rare? Why single out Pettis? The San Francisco 49ers have little clarity among their running backs and wide receivers and Pettis might have the most upside of the pass-catchers, but this is just weird. Coach Kyle Shanahan seems quiet on all the other options. Most coaches offer nothing. Perhaps it is because Shanahan sees how great Pettis can be? I moved Pettis a bit lower in the rankings, but I think a bunch of this is just coach-speak. I would not ignore Pettis or draft Marquise Goodwin or Deebo Samuel over Pettis, and I doubt I will.

Cross the name of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Hakeem Butler off your draft lists. The intriguing rookie broke his hand and is now on injured reserve. Andy Isabella was always higher on the depth chart anyway, and KeeSean Johnson looks relevant, but I found that so many people disagreed with my interest in the Arizona offense to start with. Kyler Murray can play, folks, and these preseason games -- and the theme of Murray struggling -- told us nothing. Do you really think coach Kliff Kingsbury is giving any information on his creative, rollicking offense away in August?

New York Jets running back Ty Montgomery has looked good in preseason games, but you know it might mean nothing come September. I doubt Le'Veon Bell wishes to share touches. Perhaps he will be forced to, which should make for interesting locker room talk, but I do not see much viability in making Montgomery a late-round choice in standard leagues. I would prefer a younger player in a better situation, like Isabella, for example.

New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon is no longer on the non-football injury (NFI) list, which is simply procedural in this case. Gordon might not see a major role in the early September weeks, but he will be active and if you invested, stay with him. I have doubts about top-20 wide receiver viability, but I do not doubt his upside or his physical condition.

I still do not care what helmet Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brownwears, because he will be in the lineup in Week 1 and beyond. He remains a top-10 wide receiver for me.

I think the Dallas Cowboys and star running back Ezekiel Elliott come to a contractual agreement any day now -- any minute now -- and I would draft him top-five overall, still. As for the Chargers' Melvin Gordon, I might not take him in Round 5.