Texans backfield: What to expect

Houston’s offseason has come replete with an offensive makeover. New quarterback, two new running backs, two new wide receivers, new center, and a new guard. It was a much needed facelift for an offense that, quite frankly, was ugly as sin last year. Were it not for Deandre Hopkins, the Texans offense really had no business being on the field.

This was never more evident than in the 30-0 playoff shellacking Houston suffered at the hands of the Chiefs. Justifiably so, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the signing of Brock Osweiler and the drafting of Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. But perhaps equally important are the moves that Houston made to strengthen their backfield.

In 2015, Houston finished 15th in total rushing. That doesn’t sound terrible right? Well, if you look a little more closely, you will see that the ranking is a bit misleading. Houston had 472 attempts for 1,731 yards. That is just a 3.7 yards per carry average. The 472 attempts were fifth most in the NFL behind Buffalo, Carolina, Seattle, and Minnesota.

The aforementioned four teams were tops in the NFL averaging 4.8, 4.3, 4.5, and 4.7 yards per carry respectively. Each team rushed for well over 2,000 yards. Only two teams had a lower per carry average than Houston. The point is, Houston could not run the ball. Couple that with mediocre quarterback play, and you have serious problems.

But hopefully this year will be different. Arian Foster is no longer a Texan. Lamar Miller was signed from the Dolphins, Jonathan Grimes was re-signed, Tyler Ervin was drafted, and Alfred Blue and Akeem Hunt are still in the mix. On paper, that gives the Texans a very versatile group.

We saw a lot of Alfred Blue last year in the absence of Foster. He carried the ball 183 times for 698 (3.8 avg.) yards and two td’s. Blue is a bigger back, but lacks the vision and explosiveness to be a true number one guy. I like Blue as a second back who can come in, spell Miller, and get a couple of tough yards on third down.

We saw Jonathan Grimes and Akeem Hunt sparingly, as Chris Polk was also in the mix. Grimes was a bright spot though, he just wasn’t used enough. He averaged five yards per carry, but was given only 56 attempts. He is a big, speedy, versatile back who can be effective in many different situations. Hunt is a smaller back with blazing speed. He is used mostly on sweeps and screens.

Tyler Ervin is coming out of San Jose State where he was a highly impactful runner, receiver, and returner. In his last two seasons, Ervin compiled 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. As a receiver, he caught 74 passes for 640 yards and three scores. He also finished with five return touchdowns (2 punts, 3 kickoffs) for his career.

Ervin is an exciting player who can make an impact in a variety of ways. Look for him to be worked into the offense early and often thanks to his versatility as a receiver. Also, don’t be surprised if Ervin is the return man for both kicks and punts. Houston simply doesn’t have anyone else, and it’s an area that’s been seriously lacking.

And now for Lamar Miller. Miller’s signing was overshadowed by Osweiler’s, but he was arguably the best back on the market. His situation is interesting. In his last three full seasons with the Dolphins, Miller has a total of just 587 carries, an average of just under 200 per season.  To put that in perspective, Arian Foster had over 250 carries four times in his career, twice more than 300.

With those touches, Miller amassed 2,680 yards giving him an average of 4.5. He has also caught over 25 passes in each of the past three years. Miller hasn’t missed a game in the last three years, yet he just hasn’t gotten a lot of touches. The Dolphins never felt Miller could be an every down back, even though he was putting up very solid numbers.

The Texans may have hit the jackpot with this signing. Miller (5-11, 212) is a big back with 4.4 speed. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and has very little tread on his tires. Miller isn’t going to wow between the tackles, but he can get to the edge and do a lot of damage. And, similar to Foster, he is very dangerous in the passing game..

Texans coaches have the luxury of versatility in the backfield. They have a big, between the tackles back, and they also have speedy playmakers who catch the ball well. Lamar Miller should be the unquestioned leader of this pack, but each guy will have a role and should play an important part in the offense.

Header image based on “Lamar Miller on Beast Mode” by Derrick Lee (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)



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