Between now and the NFL Draft, we will run a series of articles analyzing each team’s needs using stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com
Steve Slaton burst onto the scene late in 2008, rushing for 737 yards over the final seven games of the season. As a result the Texans, and numerous fantasy owners who drafted him in the 1st round, entered 2009 with lofty expectations.
The results were underwhelming. In 11 games prior to a season-ending neck injury, Slaton rushed for just 437 yards at a dismal rate of 3.3 yards per carry.
The reason behind the decline is fairly simple. Slaton just doesn’t have the body of an NFL running back. Year after year we see impressive late-season statistics posted by backups plugged into starting roles. Last year it was Slaton, this year it was Jerome Harrison Harrison and Jamal Charles. Occasionally these backups prove to be the real deal. But more often than not they simply capitalizing on being fresh from having not been worn down as the workhorse for the majority of the season and are playing with extra motivation to win the starting job for the following season.
In Slaton’s case, both factors could have played a role in his 2008 heroics. There’s no denying his ability as a big-play running back, but like others such as Reggie Bush and Leon Washinngton, he doesn’t have the strength to carry the load.
To demonstrate his inability to be a feature back, consider the stat “yards after contact” which is tracked by the guys at ProFootballFocus. Among running backs with at least 100 attempts, Slaton averaged the 4th-fewest yards after contact per attempt this season at just 2.12.
From the view of an opposing defensive coordinator, these are the ideal running backs to face. Yes, Slaton could hurt you by breaking off a big run, but you don’t feel the need to stack the box in order to slow him down. As a result, Slaton’s inability to force defenses to game-plan for him allows defenses to focus their attention on Andre Johnson and their potent passing attack.
Down the stretch the Texans used the more physically imposing Arian Foster (6’1″, 217 lbs) as the feature back. He did an adequate job, but the Texas likely won’t feel comfortable handing him the starting job for 2010.
Given the limited number of running backs available in free agency, this is likely a position the Texans will need to address in the draft. In the 1st round Jonathan Dwyer and Ryan Mathews are both options, but would it would be considered a reach by many to select either one in the top 20. The safer route may be to select a player such as Anthony Dixon or Montario Hardesty in the 2nd or 3rd round to share the load with Slaton in 2010.