There probably wasn’t a better landing spot for former Florida running back Dameon Pierce than the Houston Texans. The rookie enters a situation where the only competition in front of him at the position is Rex Burkhead, Marlon Mack, and Royce Freeman.
Freeman averaged a putrid 2.6 yards per attempt last season with the Texans. Mack is coming off a brutal Achilles tear in 2020 that ultimately led to his departure from the Indianapolis Colts. Rex Burkhead will be 32 years old by the end of the season.
Pierce may not have gone as early in the draft as he would’ve liked but, after a stellar draft process, he’s entered a situation where he appears to be the best talent in a weak room. In addition, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has preached that the Texans will be a run-first football team on his side of the ball. This has led many to speculate just how well Pierce could play during his first season in Houston.
I’d like to see the Texans feature Dameon Pierce early and often! pic.twitter.com/7cRkKFSpFN
— Full-Time Dame (@DP_NFL) June 9, 2022
What should Texans fans and fantasy football players alike expect?
Organized team activities have been relatively quiet on the Pierce front. Teammates are complimentary when asked about the player but there’s far from any guarantees from the coaching staff about his future utilization. Much more so, there’s immediate compliments as to who Pierce is and what exactly he’s bringing as a person to his position group.
RB Marlon Mack spoke on what rookie Dameon Pierce brings to their position group:
“You know young guys, man. Young guy, bring that college energy, fresh, don’t know what to expect. But he’s a young guy, he’s learning, energetic, happy. Smile on the face every day” #WeAreTexans
— John Crumpler (@JohnHCrumpler) June 8, 2022
In fact, when pressed to talk about any of the running backs individually, head coach Lovie Smith often opts to talk about the position group as a whole instead.
“We were trying to upgrade all the positions but running back was one that we thought there were some players out there that fit what we wanted to do. And Marlon, I’m going to say that about all our running backs, even with our rookie, we have depth at the running back position. You need that. They will all have a role. We have a fullback – odds are we’ll have a fullback on our roster, so it was a commitment to the run and with a commitment to the run you need running backs and we feel like we have a few that can play.”
This has led to a difficult evaluation as Houston has openly preached their commitment to the run, even as far as desiring a fullback in 2022, and there is clearly a talented rookie in the room. However, the lack of commitment from the staff and Pierce’s lower draft capital make any bold proclamations difficult to assess.
One possible comparison that immediately comes to mind is 2020 J.K. Dobbins. He was in a similar position as the most talented back on a team, the Baltimore Ravens, that openly preached their desire to run the ball. During the first month and a half he never saw over 43% of the snaps but after that he saw over 50% of the snaps at running back in 6 of the team’s last 9 games. His last six games featured seven total touchdowns.
In this same way, we could watch a gradual Pierce ascent to the top of the back field as he earns his way over established veterans like Burkhead and Mack.
Last season 30 running backs had over 150 carries per Pro Football Reference. Of the top 11 teams in rushing attempts only the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, who featured quarterbacks with 130-plus rushing attempts, failed to have a player on this list.
If Houston is as committed to the run as they preach that they are and Pierce is the best talent, this seems like a reasonable place to start. They spent the off-season majorly improving the roster through the draft and should be more competitive against good teams than they were in 2021.
ESPN currently models Pierce for 137 carries with 591 yards and four touchdowns. Sleeper has Pierce at 106 carries for 442 yards and three touchdowns. Over 4.0 yards a carry, something all Houston running backs failed to do last season, feels within reach — especially when considering offensive line additions such as first round pick Kenyon Green and veteran A.J. Cann.
Would 160 carries for 700 yards and five touchdowns be a success for the rookie? It’s a value that nearly doubles every Houston running back from last season. This is a value that could go up even further should Pierce fully pull away from the veteran core that Smith is so fond of.
Fans will have to wait and see just how well Pierce produces next season.