After the 2008 season, everyone was talking about Steve Slaton. The rookie running back had just finished his first NFL year by ranking 6th in rushing in the league and 1st in yards from scrimmage in the American Conference. He was also the leading rusher of an oustanding rookie running back class, beating out Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, and Rashard Mendenhall in their first season. But now, just over two years later, he sits buried on the depth chart of the team he once led, hoping only for a trade so that he may have a chance to pick up the broken pieces of his career. With that, let's take a look at Steve's past year and what may loom in his future.
( October 2, 2010 - Photo by Thearon W, Henderson/Getty Images North America)
It seems the consensus opinion on Steve Slaton from sportswriters and Texans fans is that he is all but washed up, and that even without the rise of Arian Foster, Slaton would have still been shunted to the side as a result of his serious spinal injury and related fumbling problems. His abysmal performance on special teams seemed to confirm these sentiments; Slaton ranked near or at the bottom of all kick-return statistics.
To be fair, very few true running backs return kicks and punts, so the blame for lack of kick return production should probably go on the coaches for refusing to replace Slaton rather than on Slaton himself. And as for his performance on offense, Steve actually looked pretty good running the ball in his limited carries last year, and so I can't really see why so many people think he will never approach his 2008 form again. In the first few games of 2010 Steve handled the backup running and seemed to be doing well in his new role. He was barely noticeable next to Arian Foster, but he was contributing and maintaining the offense when he was in the game. And when Foster was benched vs. Oakland, Slaton got a chance to briefly return to being a starter, as he and Derrick Ward did a decent job of carving up the Raiders before Foster stepped in.
But then came the Giants game, in which the Texans rushing offense was shut down entirely. Slaton perhaps lost more than anyone else on the team that day, because for the rest of the season he would not receive a single offensive touch.
Ultimately Steve ended up with only 93 rushing yards for the year, a number which has been proffered by pundits as evidence for his decline. They fail to mention that the man only got 19 carries, which gives him an average of 4.9 yards per carry for the year, the same as Arian Foster albeit with a much smaller body of work. I tend to think that, with the way the offensive line and Leach were blocking all year, Slaton could have maintained good production if he had been given the chance.
Why was Steve's playing time cut so drastically? At first, while he was still getting touches, it seemed that Slaton would be the perfect complement to Arian. Oftentimes the best backup to a big back is a smaller, quicker back that can provide a change of pace for the offense. Unfortunately for Slaton however, there's almost nothing that Arian can't do. He can catch passes, he's a patient screen receiver, he can handle outside pitches, he can run between the tackles, and he can finish at the goal line as well as any running back or fullback in the league. Anything Steve can do Arian can do better, or at least just as well. Since Foster's versatility precludes any need to bring in a change-of-pace back, Kubiak decided that the best strategy for the running game for when Foster is on the bench is to continue with its most important aspect, zone running, and so decided to go with the backup best suited to this role, Derrick Ward.
Of course there may be other, less obvious, reasons why Slaton never returned to the offensive huddle. Maybe his old injury flared up again or his relationship with his coaches soured, although his constant appearance on special teams appeared to dismiss these speculations. Also, I'm not enough of an in-depth observer to know how pass-blocking factors into the Texans running back situation, although I've never heard of Steve having serious pass-blocking trouble.
But where does all this leave Slaton? Derrick Ward's early offseason re-signing indicates that the Texans have no plans on changing their running back rotation from last season, except perhaps with replacing Steve Slaton with Ben Tate as the #3 RB. At this point, Steve's best chance at regaining relevancy is to be traded to a team that could use his talents as a backup. St. Louis is a team that might be interested, since they only have one productive running back, although they have little to offer the Texans in return other than draft picks. Anyways, a trade to almost any other team would be welcome to Slaton, as any more time spent in Houston will be time spent on the bench, barring a crippling injury to Arian Foster, which doesn't really bear thinking about.
I admit that my opinion of Slaton is that of a sympathetic fan who can't bring himself to give up on a player. I realize now that there is no real future in Houston for Steve any longer, but I still hope that he can regain success on another NFL team. I simply can't forget his great 2008 season and what might have been had he not ruined his 2009. Well, here's hoping for the best for ol' Steve.
Is it just me, or is Dorin Dickerson shrinking? He was listed at 6 feet, 4 inches when he was drafted and still is in most places, but during the year that height changed to 6-2 from some sources and now this article from the Texans' website has him at 6-1. Height discrepancies are of course common, but it's a bit depressing to have hopes for a giant wide receiver dashed against the rocks. Unfortunately, from what little footage I've seen of him, Dickerson seems to be closer to 6-2 than 6-4, but who knows anymore?