Fantasy Football RB Report: Houston, We Have a RB Problem
James Grande talks about the options open to Houston and their uncertain backfield following the Lamar Miller injury in this week's Running Back Report.
Everything seemed just peachy entering for the year for the Texans backfield as has been the case the last few seasons, Lamar Miller would open camp the starter and D'Onta Foreman would be the potentially great backup that could seize the job, and then he wasn’t and Miller wasn’t around either. Foreman has since been released and Miller tore his ACL this weekend during a preseason game so now what? Let’s break it all down to see what options the Texans have to play with as their season opens up on September 9th.
Came and Gone
As mentioned at the top, both Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman are no longer options. Foreman because he was released and Miller with an injury. Miller has been the team’s primary running back for three consecutive seasons now, notching 210-plus carries in each of the three campaigns. He’s been a very underrated running back for quite some time now with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield as well. He’s someone who’s notched 1,100-plus scrimmage yards for five-straight seasons. Foreman was nothing but a problem for Houston since being drafted and did virtually nothing for them on the field in the two years he was with the club.
Hello, New Friend?
After not resigning Alfred Blue in the offseason and releasing Foreman shortly after camp began, the Texans realized they needed a complementary back for Lamar Miller so they landed Duke Johnson Jr. in a trade. Johnson was supposed to be the third-down, pass-catching back for Houston but that all changed once Miller went down with an injury. The Texans came out and announced Johnson would be the primary back. There are obviously massive concerns with that, however. Despite never missing a game over four years, his career-high in carries is 105 and that came in 2015. The worst part is the carries have gradually decreased all the way down to 40 last season. Even when you take a look at his college years, it wasn’t until his junior season until he became a workhorse carrying the ball 242 times, but that was way back in 2014 and not against NFL defenders.
Where Johnson has shined over his career is in the passing game, which everyone is aware of by now. He’s seen 62-plus targets in each season while reeling in at least 47 of them and amassing 420-plus yards. That said, Johnson can’t just run out in the flat every play in Houston considering how bad their offensive line is. He’s going to have to stay home and block often, which for a guy who is 5’9” is definitely a question mark.
What Else is Behind the Curtain?
So with Duke Johnson now taking on the lead role (for now) who else is in the Houston backfield? Some of the names you may have heard of, but most are going to get reactions such as “who? Huh? What was his last name again?”
If you’re not familiar with Crockett and Higdon that’s because they’re both rookies. Crockett went to Missouri and played three seasons there averaging 5.9 YPC across all three years. He didn’t contribute much in the passing game, however, notching a career-high 12 receptions in 2018. Higdon went to Michigan and didn’t see much playing time during his freshman and sophomore seasons, but saw his carries soar to 224 in ‘18 before being signed by the Texans after the draft.
Some of you will recognize Josh Ferguson ’s name as he played for the Colts a few years back. Did he make a significant impact? A memorable one even? No, but he has NFL experience under his belt. That also goes for Taiwan Jones , but Jones has been around for quite a while as he entered the league all the way back in 2011. He’s been primarily a return man that catches some passes out of the backfield, never a primary first and second down running back. Buddy Howell seems pretty interesting if you’ve been watching the preseason at all. He dominated the Lions his last time out carrying the ball 15 times for 84 yards and a score. Albeit it came against second, third and even fourth stringers, but that’s not the point. With a need at the position, Howell is making a name for himself and could be a sleeper in all of this.
With all of that being said, there are a ton of different options the Texans could be looking at right now. Let’s just talk trade partners for a moment, because there are quite a few. The obvious trade partner that has been rumored even prior to the Miller injury was Melvin Gordon . Gordon would fit like a glove next to Deshaun Watson but is what San Diego is asking for too much for Houston to stomach? Gordon would instantly vault himself back into RB1 discussion despite the porous offensive line in Houston. He’s that good.
Could they contact Buffalo and make a move for someone like LeSean “Shady” McCoy? Devin Singletary is ready to take that job and run with it and Frank Gore is there as a change-of-pace back and as a mentor to boot, but with so much tread on the tires does anyone -- let alone Houston -- think Shady has anything left after a career-worst 3.2 YPC at Age-31?
How much sense does an Adrian Peterson trade make if Washington truly believes Derrius Guice is their guy and is healthy enough to go? Peterson, like McCoy, is advanced in age, but unlike McCoy, is coming off a year in which he notched 1,000 rushing yards. Washington still has Chris Thompson as their change-of-pace, receiving back, so two *reliable* RB’s if they moved on from Peterson.
How about a few teams with clear running-back dilemmas that could make their depth-chart decisions easier with a simple trade? San Francisco is the first team that comes to mind. They have three RB’s that could start, have the potential to be a three-down back, but won’t because the sheer depth the team has.
Another team in a similar boat is Philadelphia. It’s not so much with their primary guys either, because keeping both Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard makes sense, but they have a lot of secondary options that could work in Houston such as Wendell Smallwood , Josh Adams or Corey Clement . We saw flashes of all three guys getting extended reps last year after Jay Ajayi ’s injury and all three showed the potential to be a three-down back.
Baltimore went out and signed Mark Ingram to be the bell cow and alleviate a lot of pressure off of Lamar Jackson . His backups in Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon are both potential candidates as well considering all of the depth Baltimore has and the lack of attempts they’ll see with this team. Dixon, drafted in the fourth round back in 2016, has been riddled with injuries but has stuck around because he has immense talent. Edwards had a fantastic rookie year rushing for 718 yards on 137 attempts, but again, his role is limited in Baltimore. Moving one of them makes sense, and it would likely be Dixon first.
The most obvious move for Houston that doesn’t involve trading any players or draft picks is to sign Jay Ajayi . Ajayi has been fully cleared to return, he just doesn’t have a home yet. We saw how good he could be when given the keys to the car back in 2016 when he made the Pro Bowl for the Dolphins, but it’s been quite a journey since then mostly due to all of the injuries he’s endured. Houston’s 12 rushing touchdowns last year screams Jay Ajayi ’s 6’3” frame within the Red Zone. Lamar Miller only saw 13 carries inside the 10-yard line last year. That was their primary running back! Ajayi, if signed and if healthy, could vault himself into a FLEX option and possibly an RB2 as the season wore on if given first and second down duties in Houston.
Option two is Chris Ivory , who is still without a home. Ivory is on the wrong side of 30 and that’s without question, but as a complement to Duke Johnson ? The Texans could get by. And everything mentioned above about Jay Ajayi ’s usefulness in the red zone applies here with Ivory. 23-of-29 touchdowns Ivory has scored on the ground have come from within the red zone. Could Ivory be the thunder to Duke Johnson ’s lightning? Given the chance, sure. He could have RB3/4 value in deeper formatted teams.
It seems like all of the potential free agent signings are the size of a bulldozer because LeGarrett Blount is still a free agent as well. Blount played all 16 games for the Lions last year and although he wasn’t impactful between the tackles, he scored five touchdowns for the seventh time across nine professional seasons. He only averaged 2.7 YPC last year and that could have something to do with the fact he’s 32 and slowing down, but even with that poor season, his career average sits at 4.2 YPC. Could be worth a look if none of the other Houston options pan out.
Of course, when the dust settles and teams figure out their 53-man rosters, there may also be some notable names cut looking for some work and the Texans could also take that approach. This is the least ideal path, but it’s definitely a possibility that they use Duke Johnson as the primary back until then.
We have NO idea what they’ll decide but the regular season is fast approaching so they have to make a decision fast. They have plenty of options, and it’s just a wait-and-see approach as to which fork in the road they take