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Realistic Expectations for Rex Burkhead

Can the sage veteran and lead horse of the backs

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all aware that Rex Burkhead was not declared the Chosen One, the prophesized running back to reawaken the Houston Texans running game to start the 2021 season. He wasn’t even on last year’s roster until June last and was labeled another “ex-Patriot” that Caserio recruited to come down South.

Upon arrival, Rex was stuck behind David Johnson and newly acquired RBs Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay. RB4s rarely make the team. But a year later Rex is the only one of the group remaining.

Burkhead’s 2021 season was a slow burn. He registered barely 40 snaps through seven games. After a Week 8 game against the Rams where he had four rushes, three receptions, 48 total yards and a TD, he never saw less than 30% of the offensive snaps the rest of the season.

His season and career’s crown jewel came in Week 16 against a surging Chargers team. Let’s let Next Gen Stats tell the rest from here...

It was the first 100 yard game for a Texan since 2016...

The 31 year-old Super Bowl winner from Plano, Texas sliced himself such a good role last season the Texans plan to give him the whole pie. Well, not exactly; he’ll be sitting in a timeshare with (again) newly added RBs Marlon Mack and rookie Dameon Pierce.

By no means is Rex Burkhead expected to be a bell cow. Hell, by the end of the season he should be third on the team in carries out.

Yet it’s not his ability to tote the rock that Rex remains on the roster.

His ace card is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His compatriots Mack and Pierce can use their hands, but their limitations in doing so are indicative of each of their current placement with the Texans.

Not only that, but his willingness to block was invaluable down the stretch last season. When the Texans were down in games last season, which happened quite often, they needed pass catchers and a RB who can block for Davis Mills. Burkhead answered both calls better than any other back on the roster and was duly rewarded with more playing time.

Before last season the most carries he had was 74 back in 2016. Last season was a breakout year for him with 122 carries, but even so it stands as a strong barometer for how the Texans plan to use him in 2022.

For reference, last season he averaged 3.5 yards per attempt, had 3 rushing TDs, 3-5 receptions per game down the stretch, and a solid 7.4 receiving yards per attempt.

With a new season comes new expectations. Texans hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher the past two seasons. Plus, there’s a whole lot less mouths to feed to compared to when Burkhead initially arrived in Houston.

The Texans offensive line and offense in general should improve. Better running lanes and more time of possession will bode well. But what happens when Marlon Mack fully recovers and Dameon Pierce revs up? And aren’t 31 year-old running backs...well... old?

All of those must be factored in. Rex should be the focal point of a meshing offense early on. Games against the Bears, Chargers, and Jags early pose opportunities for him to rack up quality yards. Inevitably though, the Texans must equally rotate the three backs and give Pierce an opportunity to earn the starting role by mid-season.

Burkhead also hasn’t played a full season since 2016. An injury-riddled career could catch up to him quickly. He should appropriately be treated as the complimentary back that he has been the majority of his career. When placed as the lead back the last two games of the season, he recorded less than three yards per carry, regarded as a poor average.

All told, expect Burkhead to be active for 13 games this season. In those 13 games, we expect 14 carries per game and generously allot him 3.68 yards per carry. That will put him at 670 yards per game. With that many carries he’s bound to get into the end zone four times next season.

Passing wise, expect him to be targeted 4-5 times per game and catch three per game, which is fairly consistent to end of last year. He’s no Nyheim Hines, but thats 39 receptions on the year. He’s averaged less than eight yards per reception last two years, so let’s give him 275 receiving yards and one TD.

All told, Rex’s stat line should look something like this: 13 games, 10 starts, 945 total yards, 39 receptions, 182 carries, five TDs.

That’s not Pro-Bowl numbers by any means, but a productive season nonetheless. His productivity is as much in his own hands as it is the players around him, which will make monitoring his success this season all the more interesting.