With seemingly an entire new set of players every season, we’ve become accustomed to the offseason barrage of training camp battles. This year will be no different; nearly every position group has a roster spot or two up for grabs. With competition for jobs at an all-time high heading into the 2023 season, the running back room offers a unique glimpse into the priorities and preferences of the new coaching staff.
Barring injury or any other setback, we assume Dameon Pierce and ex-Buffalo Bills starting running back Devin Singletary will be the primary ball careers this offseason. Houston media has yet to truly appreciate the threat Singletary poses to the starting role, but that’s an article for another day.
Today’s topic is the final spot in the running back room and what it will teach us about the team’s plans for the future.
Houston has thematically vowed to hold a roster spot for a fullback. They’re one of the few franchises beholden to the ways of old. They currently have two fullbacks on the offseason roster, and if they commit to keeping one of Andrew Beck or Troy Hairston it will hamstring the Texans’ depth in the backfield.
The Texans running back room behind Singletary and Pierce include veteran signing Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale, Gerrid Doaks, and undrafted rookie Xazavian Valladay. Boone is the most proven back at the next level out of this quartet, but he isn't a long-term solution, goal line threat, or special teams savant. Ogunbowale contributed in the back half of the season when Dameon Pierce went down and all was lost on the offense. Gerrid Doaks is training camp fodder and won’t be an impact.
Then there’s undrafted rookie Valladay. Valladay has special teams capabilities and the versatility of a three-down back in the league. The uphill battle is so formidable for Valladay due to the limited reps, but don’t be surprised if he flashes during training camp. Let this be the first time you hear about the rookie.
Let this sink in: Valladay was signed to a three-year, $2.72M contract, while Devin Singletary received a one-year, $2.75M contract and Mike Boone a two-year, $3.1M contract. Houston values the rookie just as much as the other contending RBs.
BREAKING: Former ASU RB Xazavian Valladay received a $30,000 signing bonus from the Houston #Texans along with $145,000 paragraph 5 salary guarantee on a three year deal worth 2,725,000 million, source says.— MLFootball (@_MLFootball) April 30, 2023
To put the guarantees in context his agent Jamal Tooson negotiated a… pic.twitter.com/QqwukpBIdp
Why is this group so interesting? It will illustrate if DeMeco Ryans, new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, and Nick Caserio are thinking long term with Valladay or short-term with Boone or Ogunbowale. Houston is fairly settled with it’s two premier running backs, which offers the third running back or fullback spot to be a hotly contested position in the coaching staff vs. front office debate. That RB3 position will indicate who holds power in the newly organized Texans’ signal caller and general manager dynamic.
New OC Slowik is from the Shanahan and Gary Kubiak tree; play action based offense with much of the plays being the same concept, but disguised in different formations and motions. According to USA Today, Slowik’s offense under the San Francisco 49ers featured two RB sets more than any team. That means the fullback position will be critical to his offense. That also means there’s a need for more dynamic players out of the backfield, which keeps guys like Ogunbowale and Valladay in the game.
Conversely, using a Caserian view of the team, Houston needs to use as many roster spots to support C.J. Stroud and Houstons unresolved cacophony of wide receiver options. It’s quite possible if not logical Caserio leans on only Pierce and Singletary to spare a roster spot for an additional wide receiver.
The possibilities are endless and nauseating on offense. It will come down to a mixture of impressing the new coaching staff and a realignment of power among coaches and front office.