Houston Texans: Evaluating running back group entering 2020 NFL Draft

Duke Johnson, Houston Texans(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Analyzing the Houston Texans roster at the running back position entering the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans are in an interesting position at running back after acquiring David Johnson and draft compensation in exchange for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson, 28, was one of the most complete backs in the passing and running games when healthy. However, the change of coaching staff in Arizona combined with unfortunate injuries slowed his momentum as one of the best running backs in the league. Kenyan Drake’s productive season only made Johnson more expendable entering the offseason.

Johnson is a unique back in his own right earning Pro Bowl recognition and First-team All-Pro accolades in 2016. That season turned out to be the only year he rushed for over 1,000 yards since arriving in the league in 2015. However, he was an all-purpose back for the Cardinals and signed a three-year extension $39 million with $30 million guaranteed that made him one of the better-paid players at his position.

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Despite his previous injuries, O’Brien is viewing Johnson as a three-down back that has the opportunity to bounce back in Houston. Johnson departed Arizona with the label of damaged goods, and the Texans are taking a risk acquiring his existing contract. If Johnson isn’t able to conjure back the magic he showed early in his career, his stint could be short in Houston. With only two years remaining in his contract, the Texans could feasibly waive him before the start of the 2021 season and only incur a $5,100,000 hit.

However, the Houston Texans see him as the missing piece of the puzzle to form a dynamic duo with Duke Johnson, who they acquired last season from the Cleveland Browns. Johnson played second fiddle to Carlos Hyde in 2019 and was valued more for his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield than his ability to run the football. He finished his first year in Houston with 83 carries, 410 rushing yards, and two rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile recording 44 receptions, 410 receiving yards, and three touchdown receptions.

Acquiring Johnson from the Cardinals enables the Texans to mix and match both of their running backs on all three downs if needed. Opposing defenses will now have to account for a runner that can be a threat out of the backfield as an additional receiver.

Despite Hyde’s physicality as a runner on first and second down, he wasn’t a threat in catching the football and getting downfield in a hurry. The Johnson duo presents a different dimension the offense didn’t have before, but they will lack the physicality that Hyde brought to the position.

Houston could use a bruising young back in their mix of running backs that can help Johnson from taking too many carries after being the workhorse running back in Arizona. Already nearing the age of 30 with several serious injuries in the past, Texans have to be smart in maintaining him in good shape so the offense can thrive.

Texans have Gregory Howell and Karan Higdon on their roster that can compete for that role, or they could look into addressing that need in the draft with a back like A.J. Dillon, who they met with at the scouting combine.

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Dillon or other runners that fit the mold as a first and second down backs could be available when the Texans are on the clock on day two or day three of the draft.