Now fighting for a roster spot on an increasingly deep Texans’ roster, two players selected 34 picks apart in the 2016 NFL Draft have not lived up to their draft position or hype. Running back Tyler Ervin and wide receiver Braxton Miller possess the athleticism and play-making ability to contribute to this roster on a weekly basis. Coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft, the duo was thought to inject dynamic options into a rather stale offensive scheme. Ervin, drafted in the fourth round, was slated to be the kick returner/scatback for the foreseeable future and even drew comparisons to Darren Sproles.
Although this punt returned for a touchdown by Ervin was called back, it demonstrates his speed and elusiveness when he is at his best.
Braxton Miller, on the other hand, was going to be the hidden dynamite in Houston’s offense because of athleticism that made him one of the most recognizable names in college football. He played most of his collegiate career at QB before tearing up his shoulder, which forced him to switch to WR. Miller’s natural talent, quickness, and leadership was enough for the Texans to take him as a developmental project, albeit in the third round. Miller flashed speed and potential for going over the middle of the field last year, with his best game coming on Monday Night Football against the Ravens, when he caught five passes for 43 yards.
All that being said, Braxton has certainly not beaten anybody in the NFL. Not the defenders who are covering him, not his fellow teammates for a job, and definitely not the injury bug.
Looking at the depth chart and recent drafts, it’s evident the Texans have sought solutions beyond Ervin and Miller. Most recently, the Texans drafted Keke Coutee out of Texas Tech to be a high-octane slot receiver complementary to Bruce Ellington. If the Texans want to go four wide, they could easily go with a DeAndre Hopkins-Will Fuller-Bruce Ellington-Keke Coutee quartet that would terrify defenses (not to mention Lamar Miller in the backfield). This does not leave Braxton Miller much room to get onto the field. The Texans also added Sammie Coates to their arsenal, complicating Braxton’s situation further.
Tyler Ervin is also in a tight spot. As running back reps are dwindling across the NFL, Ervin figures to immediately sit behind Lamar Miller and sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman. The Texans also re-signed Alfred Blue and have two undrafted rookie free agents who performed well in rookie training camp. Terry Swanson, for example, could easily make this roster with a similar playing style to Ervin and without Ervin’s injury history. Although there are several players ahead of Ervin on the depth chart, their performance (Miller), recent injuries (Foreman), and below average production (Blue) still offer Ervin an opportunity to shine in training camp if he heals from his latest injury.
Both Braxton Miller and Tyler Ervin have something intangible that has always made me root for them over other players the Texans sign or draft. I saw something in Ervin’s tape from college that screamed out to me that he could change the organization’s playbook and the defense’s scheme purely by his presence on the field. I also thought Braxton Miller was going to be more than a gadget player. He had the makings of a jet-sweeping, slant running, wildcat option player whose positionless play would make the offense exciting.
Injury wise last year, Ervin went down in Week 4 with a torn patellar tendon that landed him on IR for the rest of the season. Braxton missed two games last year with a concussion, but early in the season he routinely was a healthy scratch from the gameday roster due to a lack of performance on the field.
Miller seemed to be in Bill O’Brien’s doghouse for the entire season, but comparing production, health, and talent, I would have to say that he is the better player. Ervin, however, has talent in areas of need at a position that lacks proven depth. The injury to the patellar tendon could definitely slow Ervin down from accelerating, but if Ervin can recover well in time for training camp, there’s more room on the roster for him in 2018. The primary slot receiver battle between Miller, Coutee, and Ellington will be a highlight of training camp and preseason. If Ellington regains his role after spending the last four games of the season on IR and Coutee accelerates his understanding of Bill O’Brien’s offense faster than Miller has, Miller will be the odd man out.
In a scenario where the Texans do not bring in any more talent, Ervin has the better chance to make the roster purely based on need and his ability to contribute on special teams. Ervin can catch the ball out of the backfield better than the other running backs on the roster and may finally develop into the option the Texans need beside Lamar Miller and Foreman; Lamar plays best when on a pitch count, and who knows what Foreman’s recovery process truly looks like?
More Likely To Make The Opening 53-Man Roster: Tyler Ervin.