The running back position in the Texans offense has recently undergone a renaissance of sorts due to the introduction of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Both are considered downhill, one-cut style backs and excel in the Texans zone-blocking scheme. The Texans added Justin Forsett in the off-season and with his elusiveness and speed he should bring an element to the offense that it hasn’t had since the departure of Steve Slaton. Houston also added two undrafted rookies in Jonathan Grimes, and Davin Meggett.
Depth Chart: Starter
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 100%
Arian Foster is the best running back in the NFL. He has maintained the drive he had after going undrafted and that was rewarded this off-season with a huge extension. Foster brings versatility to the offense as not only can he run the ball extremely well but he is also a phenomenal pass catcher and has quickly become one of Matt Schaub’s favorite targets. With Foster signed long-term the Texans shouldn’t foresee having any difficulty running the ball for the next several years.
The one problem with Foster’s game is his habit of fumbling the football. While he is likely to gain a ton of yards and spend plenty of time doing his “namaste” celebration in the endzone, coughing the football up is not something that should be taken lightly. If the Texans can’t cut down on turnovers they will find themselves losing close games, just look at the playoff game last year against Baltimore. That being said, having one glaring weakness and nothing but strengths for the remainder of your abilities is something most fans, coaches and players would be content with.
Arian Foster is not the kind of player to grow content with his game however, and he will constantly push himself to be the best player he possibly can be. If that means a few years down the road he is the situational back and Ben Tate is the starter, Foster would relish the opportunity to come and run all over a tired defense. He has everything you want a see from a running back and more, and if he continues on the tear that he has had the last two and a half seasons, the Texans future is very bright.
Depth Chart: Backup
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 100%
Ben Tate had an injury that forced him to miss his entire rookie season after being drafted in the second round out of Auburn. Many didn’t know what to expect and with the league’s leading rusher ahead of Tate on the depth chart no one expected much out of him. He was a pleasant surprise, however, gaining nearly 1,000 yards and helping the Texans to lead the league in rushing yards. Tate is very similar to Foster in the one-cut style of running but where he differs is his decisiveness. Where Foster often searches for his hole, patiently, Tate runs directly to it, often times, bursting through with enough momentum for a decent gain.
That decisiveness is Tate’s biggest weakness as well though. Foster is patient, he waits for a lane to develop and then hits it hard breaking big gains. Tate, on the other hand, is like a bull and doesn’t wait for a hole to open, he forges his own hole by running as fast and hard as he can to where he thinks a hole will be. Unfortunately that hole doesn’t always exist and it leads to some big hits, and while he is able to bounce off of some of them, with running backs having such a short shelf life, you don’t want to see yours searching out linebackers to hit.
Ben Tate represents the best number two back in the NFL. Often when Ravens fans see Ray Rice take a breather, or Calvin Johnson in Detroit, fans are disappointed. In Houston the opposite happens. We see Arian Foster step off the field and instantly become excited because Ben Tate brings a certain home run factor to the Texans offense that it has lacked for some time. Arian Foster is clearly the number one but with Ben Tate on the Roster, the Texans have the best rushing attack in the league.
Depth Chart: Third String
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 80%
Justin Forsett has been an exciting player ever since he entered the league out of California in 2008. He didn’t get a lot of carries but as a return man he was electric in Seattle. When he signed with the Texans, it made sense because they had recently cut Jacoby Jones and were in need of a return man and third running back thanks to the departure of Derrick Ward. Forsett brings a different style of play to the Texans offense and is more of a spell back than a Foster/Tate clone. He is quick and shifty and uses his speed, not necessarily his vision, to make big plays.
The biggest hit that Forsett took this preseason was the fact that Trindon Holliday has stepped up and claimed the kick returner roster spot. While Forsett definitely brings a change of pace to the offense he doesn’t fit into Kubiak’s zone-blocking, one-cut style offense as well as other backs might and that dwindles his opportunity for a spot on the roster. If Forsett keeps up what he’s been doing in camp and continues to impress the coaching staff he shouldn’t have any problem making the team though.
Forsett is exciting and different than the style of backs the Texans have grown accustomed to seeing, but that doesn’t necessarily make him better. If you’re from the school of thought of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” then you will like the next player on the list more.
Depth Chart: 4th String
Likelihood of Roster Spot: 20%
Jonathan Grimes is a great young player out of William and Mary that went undrafted. The kid was a star at the small Colonial Athletic Association school leading the nation in all-purpose yards and setting the school career records for rushing yards, return yards, and all-purpose yards. He is tremendously intelligent and has grasped the offense pretty quickly. He matches the Texans play style as he is a one-cut style back and has played well in the first two preseason games. Assuming Grimes finishes out camp as strongly as he opened it, he could make Kubiak and General Manager, Rick Smith’s decision difficult.
Grimes went undrafted for a reason and that reason was that he went to an extremely small school and he doesn’t have that breakaway speed. As I said about the quarterbacks, fans shouldn’t expect to find gems in every undrafted free agent crop, and having one undrafted free agent running back on the roster is rare enough, but two would be unheard of.
Other than his speed and school concerns I see no reason as to why Grimes shouldn’t be considered for a roster spot. While Forsett brings an added dimension to the offense and name recognition, the Texans were just fine last year with Derrick Ward in the third spot who was extremely similar to the two guys ahead of him. If the William and Mary product continues his preseason success, he should at least make the team as the fourth back if not take the spot from Forsett.
Depth Chart: 5th String
Likelihood of Making Roster: 0%
Meggett has done nothing but be extremely average throughout camp, something an undrafted player cannot afford to be. He has been forgettable every time he has stepped on the field and with a steep hill to climb to earn a roster spot to begin with he hasn’t done himself any favors. He has been largely irrelevant in the preseason games and the coaching staff hasn’t spoken much, if at all, about him after practices.
Between Arian Foster and Ben Tate the Texans have the best running game in the NFL. Who they choose to be the third back on the roster will address their depth, but even if those two were the only ones they kept I’d still grade the Texans halfbacks at an A+.