How much will the Texans improve this season?
There are any number of ways to look at fantasy projections. I certainly am not a fantasy football expert. However, we can get a good idea about popular expectations for the Texans and other teams by comparing fantasy projections across the board. Eventually, we start to see a pattern emerge and those patterns represent the collective wisdom of prognosticators. Individually they might not be any smarter than any of us. Collectively, it is compelling if they are all saying the same things.
We will look at Yahoo, ESPN, and Fantasypros projections for the running backs in regards to rushing. I’d include receiving as well, but we have already looked at quarterbacks and those receiving yards will be folded in there ultimately. We will compare the running backs to last season, with the other teams in the division, and with other prominent backs in the rookie class with Dameon Pierce. Projections will be listed in alphabetical order (ESPN, Fantasypros, Yahoo) with the composite as the fourth number. First, let’s take a look at last season.
Rushing Yards— 1,422 (DAL)
Rushing Touchdowns— 8 (Tied-31st)
For those reading for the first time, DAL stands for dead ass last. So, obviously there is nowhere to go but up. We will be looking at the running back room three deep. This will not include any random yards gained by Davis Mills or by any of the receivers or running backs after the top three guys. However, the numbers should speak for themselves.
Marlon Mack— 666/4, 616/4, 913/5, 732/4
Dameon Pierce— 585/4, 514/3, 412/2, 504/3
Rex Burkhead— 234/2. 305/2, 236/2, 258/2
Texans Total Yards: 1,494 (31st)
Texans Touchdowns: 9 (31st)
It doesn’t look like much of an improvement here, but we have to keep a couple of things in mind. Nearly every team distributes the ball to more backs than that and many teams have quarterbacks that heavily contribute to their running game. The Texans likely won’t be one of those teams, but Mills did contribute 44 yards in 11 starts. Maybe he finds his way close to 100 yards. Maybe the other running backs and wide receivers combine for 100 yards. 1,700 total rushing yards feels like an improvement of sorts.
Clearly, the pundits don’t think much of our running attack, but the Texans have given them very little reason to. The finished DAL in rushing in 2020 and 2021 and they’ve added a back coming off of an Achilles tendon tear and a back they picked in the fourth round. Their leading rusher last season was a glorified third down back in New England. To give you an idea, we took the top three backs in the rest of the division and added them together just like we did with the Texans.
The AFC South
Indianapolis Colts— 1,972/17, 2,147/18, 1,932/15, 2,017/17
Tennessee Titans— 1,853/13, 2,189/16, 1,985/17. 2,009/15
Jacksonville Jaguars— 1,481/11, 1,502/11, 1,226/7, 1,403/10
Houston Texans— 1,485/10, 1,435/9. 1,561/9. 1,493/9
So, the Texans and the Jaguars look pretty similar. Trevor Lawrence contributes more to the running game than Davis Mills. He had 334 yards rushing last season, so we could conservatively add about 400 yards rushing to the Jaguars total to give an idea of where they might end up. They won’t be nearly as good as the Colts or Titans, but they will finish well ahead of the Texans if these projections are correct.
A Look at the Rookies
There were eleven running backs selected between the second and fourth rounds of the draft. We will eliminate Pierre Strong because most projection systems don’t have him playing. Dameon Pierce was the seventh running back taken, so he theoretically should be middle of the pack in terms of expectations. The rookies are listed in the order they were taken.
Breece Hall— 1,059/6, 954/6, 922/6
Kenneth Walker— 685/4. 702/5, 793/5
James Cook— 374/3. 440/3. 550/3
Rachaad White— 324/3, 373/4, 406/2
Tyrion Davis-Price— 245/2, 201/2, 397/2
Brian Robinson— 413/4, 405/3, 241/1
Dameon Pierce— 585/4, 514/3, 412/2
Zamir White— 294/3, 269/2, 429/2
Isiah Spiller— 546/4, 398/3, 550/3
Haasan Haskins— 220/1, 203/1, 263/2
You can make a very definite argument for Pierce being the fourth best rookie back in the class based on these numbers. Of course, numbers like these are primarily a function of opportunity, so who knows if Pierce is actually the fourth best running back. However, outside of Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker, there is no one demonstrably better than he is running the ball.
The Final Verdict
Nick Caserio has been methodical about rebuilding the roster. Essentially, he has slowly gotten rid of the dead weight. Some people may think he has done that too slowly and the running back position was one of those spots. He kept David Johnson a year too long. Signing Philip Lindsay was a mistake. So, we cast those mistakes aside and hope that Rex Burkhead and Marlon Mack are decent enough football players.
Replacing bad football players with mediocre ones makes you better. If you do that at enough positions it might even translate into an extra win or two along the way. The truth is that this team is still a work in progress. The top flight running back that will be the next Arian Foster is playing in college somewhere right now. He might come in 2023 or 2024, but he isn’t here now. Hopefully, the three guys they have will be decent enough until those days come.