Let’s face it. We became spoiled rotten when Arian Foster burst onto the scene in 2010. Despite his injuries, he was an amazing running back and was a gift from the football gods for most of his career. Even though Lamar Miller currently commands the starting role, the Texans will rely on young, athletic running backs in D’Onta Foreman and Tyler Ervin to challenge opposing defenses.
With injuries to the wide receiver corps and Alfred Blue performing at the Mendoza Line of running back production (3 years, 1,646 yards, 3.6 YPC, 5 TDs), these two up-and-coming backs are ready to take on bigger roles this season.
The Texans received a lot of praise for drafting Tyler Ervin in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He torched defenses at San Jose State (click here for a highlight video). However, his rookie season was mired by an inability to protect the football. He had three fumbles and lost two during the season; in the postseason, he fumbled twice against the Raiders.
The offseason was filled with questions of whether Ervin would make the team instead of Akeem Hunt, who had a comparatively similar skill set and potentially more explosive speed. Those questions were answered during a quality preseason campaign where Ervin ran the ball well and caught the ball out of multiple offensive sets.
This season, Ervin has evolved into a pass catching threat with eight catches for 38 yards. Mostly split out wide in the slot, Ervin’s speed has been useful running slant routs against slower safeties. Against the Bengals on a 3rd and 5 from their own 11, Deshaun Watson targeted Ervin over the middle for a first down on a drive that ended in the only touchdown of the game.
Tyler Ervin will continue to be a tool the Texans utilize as the offense comes together. His development is finally starting to show on the field, but we still are waiting for him to put points on the scoreboard.
Now running for the Texans, Foreman has quickly assumed the RB2 role by replacing Alfred Blue. He has 69 yards on 21 carries in the first three games. Most of those yards came against the Bengals, where his tough running was utilized in several short yardage situations. It begs the question of why the Texans didn’t put Foreman in on third and one against the Patriots in that fourth quarter drive that ended in a field goal. A big, tough runner like Foreman may have been able to push the pile and get the first down (and yes, I am still not over that loss yet).
Like Ervin, D’Onta Foreman has also been effective in the passing game. He actually has the second most receiving yards (behind DeAndre Hopkins) on the team. Foreman also has Deshaun Watson to thank for a big chunk of his receiving yards thus far, as it occurred on a single play, that amazing scramble and dump-off pass for 34 yards. The safety-valve role for Watson out of the backfield seems to suit Foreman well. Foreman lost about 15 pounds after his junior year in college to improve his speed, which will definitely be an asset if he wants to increase his reps and solidify a rotational role.
Both young backs have unique skill sets that could allow them to stay on the Texans’ roster for years to come. Ervin may have more to prove since it’s his second year in the league and his punt and kick return talents are still in question. He has a great opportunity right now because of the injuries at WR to earn snaps in the slot, and we will soon see if his progression continues. Foreman has a bit more defined role on the roster at the moment as Lamar Miller’s backup. Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien chose Foreman with the direct intention to be a short yardage power back. Now they need to let him work.
The potential is there. Let’s keep an eye out for these young prospects.