There’s two ways to approach the third running back position on the depth chart. Either he’s a player who fits the system of the starter and can rotate in without requiring a full scheme change, or alternatevely he’s a player with a skill set that is lacking in your first two running backs. Either way, that third running back spot being solved sure does make you feel more comfortable entering into a long season.
After Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, there’s a litter of running backs in this training camp begging for snaps. Whether it is keeping Miller under 20 touches a game or pacing Foreman’s snap counts due to injury, whoever claims that third running back spot will be rewarded in the season.
Now this all of course hinges upon Cullen Gillaspia making the team, and if so how the Texans plan to use him. Because this forth and surely final RB will have to contribute on special teams. O’Brien mentioned that RBs Taiwan Jones and Buddy Howell may have a leg up on other prospects because they can return kicks.
First candidate we have is RB Josh Ferguson, a Tyler Ervin-like running back who’s squeamish running style makes him hard to tackle. After spending two season with the Colts, Ferguson has immediately impressed O’Brien and the coaching staff with his effort.
“He did a good job,” O’Brien said. “He gave great effort. He gives great effort. He’s a really good guy. He’s really working hard out there.”
Effort goes a long way in this club house, and from what I’ve heard and seen, he’s a leader in the lock room too. His running style looks like he’s been a track star all his life with cool smooth steps and easy transitions into his cuts. He may be the most well-rounded of the candidates in terms of special teams play and running back capabilities. If they label him as a scat back, he’d fall under the second of the two options listed above and provide a skill set the Texans don’t have in Foreman nor Miller.
Candidate two is Buddy Howell, the reigning third string running back on the team. He last played for the Miami Dolphins before joining the Texans. Howell was a special teams ace playing all over the field and making plays when given the opportunity. Though those opportunities weren’t on offense in 2018, he’ll look to take the next step this season and potentially sub in for short yardage situations.
If Ferguson is the second approach (see first sentence) to a third string RB, then Howell is certainly the first approach; he’s a similar running back to D’Onta Foreman. Mainly a shotgun-style running back, he is a tough boy to bring down and doesn’t shy away from contact. Purely from his knowledge of the offense and prowess in special teams last year, Howell is a front running for the position.
The third string for the third string is Taiwan Jones. He’s the leading candidate for kick returner. By far the most veteran of this group, Jones spent six years in Oakland as a backup running back and kick returner and the last two years in Buffalo. It would be interesting if the Texans decide to kick the tires on a veteran RB over keeping a younger guy, considering the reward from taking a chance on an upstart running back can be.
Expect Jones to compete all preseason and at times flash his speed and return ability. He’d be a safe pick for a punt returner, but would offer a low ceiling in terms of running back specialty.
Now we get into the two undrafted rookies. My favoritism only extends past my knowledge of their play in college, not what I've heard from training camp. RB Karan Higdon carried Michigan for the last couple years in the back field. The best way to describe Higdon at the NFL level is that he does everything... okay. He won’t blow you away with his speed. He won't juke you out of your cleats. He won’t bulldoze over NFL-caliber linebackers. But what he will do in the NFL is be a consistent contributor in a rotational backfield. He wasn't drafted more due to his ceiling than his floor. Higdon should have a place on a team’s 53 man roster, but finding the right fit for him is crucial.
Finally, Damarea Crockett is a big ‘ole back out of Mizzou. He was paired with another running back in his senior year, so he doesn’t have the most dazzling resume coming out of college. He does have an injury history, but that shouldn't and hasn;t limited him this training camp. He’ll lower the shoulder and lay the wood down as his biggest weapon. He wears those Alvin Kamara kinesthetic arm tape, which makes him look like a beast in my opinion. He’ll be fun to challenge the other backs as the most physical runner in the group.
You want a semi-hot take? I’ve got the Texans rolling the dice on Karan Higdon the rookie out of Michigan as the RB3. He’ll do everything right. He would be perfect on special teams, and he fits the Texans one-cut system. Now it’s Higdon’s turn to shine in training camp, and if he does so he may just earn a spot on my next Rosterology post.