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Fantasy Football 2019: 3 Sleepers Generating Buzz After Preseason Week 3

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2019

Indianapolis Colts' Jacoby Brissett (7) watches before an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

Injuries are the worst thing in football, be that the fantasy realm or the real world.

But just as NFL teams must call upon the next man up, fantasy owners must recognize the opportunities these injuries create.

One team just lost its starting running back to a torn ACL. Another lost its quarterback—an MVP candidate when at full strength—to a stunning retirement. Those are brutal blows to their clubs and to all the unfortunate fantasy owners who had them on their roster.

Still, their absences created voids others must fill. Coming out of the NFL's third preseason week, injury (or retirement) replacements lead the list of sleepers generating the biggest buzz.

                

Duke Johnson, RB, Houston Texans

Houston's worst fears were realized Sunday when tests confirmed starting running back Lamar Miller—a 2019 Pro Bowl alternate—suffered a torn ACL, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

If the Texans address his absence in-house, that would dramatically alter the outlook for recent addition Duke Johnson.

They traded a 2020 fourth-round (or third-round) pick for the pass-catching back before Miller went down. That shows Houston already had plans for Johnson, who was 235 career receptions and a healthy 4.3-yards-per-carry average across his first four seasons.

But if those plans exponentially increase in light of Miller's injury, CBS Sports' Heath Cummings wrote that Johnson should be universally owned:

"If Johnson is given anything close to a feature role in Miller's absence he would instantly become a must-start running back with top-12 upside. This is a good offense, Johnson is a good back, and his passing game chops paired with a significant role in the passing game could be Fantasy gold. Even a small increase in touches would make him a starter in PPR and a flex in non-PPR."

It's worth noting Johnson has never been used in a feature role (he has 10 career starts in 64 games), and Houston could scramble to find someone on the trade market or free agency.

That said, the 25-year-old's upside is suddenly enormous, and his average draft position (79th overall, 33rd among running backs, per Fantasy Football Calculator) almost eliminates all risk.

                  

Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Football careers are as fragile as they come, and Colts fans just learned that all too well. Andrew Luck, the top pick in 2012 and a four-time Pro Bowler, announced his retirement Saturday after myriad injuries had "taken my joy of this game away."

This stunning development places a massive burden on quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who started 15 games for the Colts in 2017, as Luck lost the entire year to injuries.

The 26-year-old, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2016 and traded to Indy in September 2017, should not be counted to replicate Luck's production. But he could prove fantasy-relevant as a reliable reserve and capable spot-starter (or regular starter in two-quarterback leagues) as he was in 2017.

"Nobody is saying Brissett is as skilled as Luck or the Colts are Super Bowl-bound, and this is not some recommendation to make Brissett a top-20 fantasy quarterback," ESPN's Eric Karabell wrote. "But it is worth pointing out he finished the 2017 season as ... the No. 20 fantasy quarterback."

That season, the North Carolina State product passed for 3,098 yards and 13 touches, and he added another 260 yards and four scores on the ground.

ESPN's Mike Clay projects slightly better numbers for Brissett with 3,897 passing yards, 266 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns (24 passing, two rushing).

                 

James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

With Ben Roethlisberger under center, Pittsburgh has long proved capable of giving fantasy relevance to multiple receivers. Second-year wideout James Washington could be the latest beneficiary of this passing attack's potency.

The 23-year-old is a chunk-play-waiting-to-happen, and chunk plays are happening with regularity this preseason. He already has three catches of 40-plus yards, which helps explain why he has this exhibition season's third-most receiving yards (203) despite having only nine receptions.

Eight of his nine receptions have gone for first downs, five have stretched at least 20 yards and two have put him in the end zone.

Pittsburgh Steelers @steelers

Strong connection. 😎 @Rudolph2Mason | @JamesWashington https://t.co/SG5hshWMV5

"We talk about all second-year players making significant steps, he's done that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

When Antonio Brown went to Oakland, he left 168 targets behind. It's hard to imagine JuJu Smith-Schuster seeing a big increase, since he totaled 166 last season.

The No. 2 receiving job is there for the taking, and if Washington gets the job, his 107.8 ADP (45th at the position) will look like legalized larceny.