Uncertainty spawns a flurry of irrational decisions. Whether it is betting all your money on black or rolling the dice on a 21 year old football player, trying to predict the future is as much an art as it is a science.
The Texans’ running back room could undergo a complete overhaul in 2020. Lamar Miller’s four-year, $26M contract is up. The team’s leading rusher, Carlos Hyde, is a free agent. Special teams ace Taiwan Jones as well is free to go wherever his heart desires. That leaves only Duke Johnson to carry the rock for the Texans in 2020. It’s uncertain who will be the lead back for the Texans next year.
With all this change, early tea leaf readers predict the Texans will take a running back with either their second or third round picks. With no first round pick available thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade, these projections indicate the Texans will follow a Best Player Available (BPA) at a position of need model for the 202 NFL Draft.
This worked well in the past when the Texans selected Justin Reid in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft after not having any picks in the first two rounds. Reid is now the starting safety and probably the most reliable secondary player on the roster heading into 2020. And yes, this is taking into account him having labrum surgery this offseason.
If the Texans follow the BPA model, they will most likely end up staring at one or two running backs who have fallen (as all running backs do) in the draft. If this is the case, they will wind up taking a talented back who will pair nicely with the offense and can start Day One. Sounds like a plan, right? Yet this couldn't be further from what the Texans need, with or without the consideration of free agency.
In the words of Drake, “It’s weighin’ heavy on my conscience.”
The Texans’ offensive rushing attack is like recycling; you do it because you feel better about yourself when you throw away trash. In Bill O’Brien’s offense, any professional RB can run for 800 yards. A tough RB with average speed who knows how to run behind his pads is going to get 1,000 yards. It’s not that anyone can succeed in O’Brien’s offense; the problem is that a markedly better RB may only get 100 or 200 more yards. This back would require millions more than a run-of-the-mill back with minimal difference in production to account for it. Simply put, the quality of the ball carrier does not greatly impact the success of the run game in Houston under O’Brien.
To illustrate the consistent production out of the team’s running game, here are the team’s leading rushers every year under Bill O’Brien:
- Carlos Hyde 2019: 245 carries, 1,070 yards (4.38 YPC)
- Lamar Miller 2018: 210 carries, 973 yards (4.63 YPC)
- Lamar Miller 2017: 238 carries, 888 yards (3.73 YPC)
- Lamar Miller 2016: 268 carries, 1,073 yards (4.00 YPC)
- Alfred Blue 2015: 183 carries, 698 yards (3.81 YPC)
- Arian Foster 2014: 260 carries, 1,246 yards (4.80 YPC)
The Texans went all-in signing Lamar Miller, and his production was only slightly better than Alred Blue’s. Miller was not only one of he highest paid backs in the league, but he also had one of the highest dead caps in the league. Releasing him would cost the Texans a significant sum of money.
It does not matter who is toting the rock under the BOB offense. The back just needs to be healthy for a full season and they will be promised a stat-filled experience. This is, of course, because the Texans are not using the run to effectively move the ball down the field. The run is a ploy to draw the defense closer to the line of scrimmage and open up pass lanes. It’s an objective, not a scheme.
Contrast that with the 2019 Tennessee Titans, where the run was the primary, secondary, and probably tertiary play choice. Not only because they had a premiere back who can handle the toll of a 300 carry season, but also because their offense was designed for smash mouth football. Their scheme was orchestrated to maximize the talent. The Texans, on the other hand, see the run as a means to an end.
There is a ton of high-caliber running back talent in the front end of the 2020 draft. So much so that there could be two or three backs drafted in the end of the first round. The Texans do need a running back to make make the offense float. However, the production they would receive from drafting J.K. Dobbins or Zack Moss in the second round is not much more than if they bring back Carlos Hyde. Or alternatively, signing Jordan Howard, Gus Edwards, or Spencer Ware as cost-effective alternatives to inking a rookie to a long-term deal.
Now, if Moss is available in the third round, I cannot see the Texans passing on him. The downhill running, ability to maneuver in inside zone runs, and the pass blocking skills scream Houston Texans RB.
Under Bill O’Brien, the Texans have not shown they can develop a running back and maximize his potential. D’Onta Foreman isn’t the best example, but he does represent the team’s lack of success molding a running back. It’s no surprise that O’Brien has preferred to use veteran bell cows instead of unproven rookies.
As long as Deshaun Watson is on the team, I am not as concerned about the offense as I am the defense. After watching the Chiefs effortlessly move the ball against us in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, it seems clear the defense needs all the help it can get to stop the bleeding. Long-term solutions via the draft is the best way to turn Houston’s defense back into the formidable unit that it once was.
Considering the depth concerns in the backfield, the Texans do need a talented addition at running back. Yet these concerns are outweighed by the team’s need to bring in young corners, defensive tackles, and pass rushers. Basically the entire defense needs an injection of youth; the offense will continue to roll with or without a young running back.
Do you think RB is the most important position to fill through the draft, or should the Texans look to free agency to accomplish their needs? If there is a player you’d like to see the Texans target, either in the draft or free agency, who is it and why?