Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon could be a prospect for Texans fans to keep an eye on during the 2010 draft, according to Joe Fortenbaugh and Wes Bunting of the National Football Post.
EDITOR'S NOTE:*The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Texans organization. The article is part of our 2010 Path to the Draft coverage presented by FOX Sports Houston.
*After a season in which their leading rusher, Steve Slaton, totaled 437 yards, the Texans are expected to add a running back in the first few rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The Texans had the league's top passing offense in 2009, but they ranked 30th in rushing with an average of 92.2 yards per game. Their 3.5 yards per carry average was the lowest in head coach Gary Kubiak's four seasons with the team.
Texans owner Bob McNair listed running back as one of the team's needs during a February press conference, and Kubiak said that a better running game would help the team to finish close games. The Texans lost six games by eight points or less in 2009.
"We've got to find a way to get our defense off the field more; they were on the field too much," Kubiak said. "We've got to be more dominant late in football games. I've always been committed to running the football, and that's not going to change. We're going to find a way to get better. It wasn't good enough last year."
Slaton is coming off of neck surgery to repair a nerve injury that ended his 2009 season after 11 games. The Texans expect him to be medically cleared for training camp and hope that a healthy Slaton can return to the form he displayed as a rookie, when he set a franchise record with 1,282 rushing yards and led the AFC in yards from scrimmage in 2008.
The Texans also have potential contributors in Ryan Moats, a four-year veteran, and Arian Foster and Jeremiah Johnson, a pair of undrafted rookies in 2009. Foster finished last season with 216 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the final two games. Moats averaged 3.9 yards per carry on the season and scored five total touchdowns. Johnson spent the year on injured reserve with a right shoulder injury.
This year's draft class is deep with talented running backs, including potential first-round prospects C.J. Spiller of Clemson, Ryan Mathews of Fresno State and Jahvid Best of Cal. Would Kubiak and Texans general manager Rick Smith, who have never taken a running back higher than the second round (Clinton Portis in Denver, 2002), deem one of those players worthy of the 20th overall pick?
Analysis from the National Football Post
In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post* *examine the running back position as it relates to the Texans and the 2010 draft.
"One thing that was very apparent about the Houston Texans last season is that the team needs a more physical presence in the backfield. Houston has one of the most explosive offenses in the league, but a solid, reliable running game will help to take some of the pressure off of Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub, while forcing opposing defenses to respect the ground game. The less Houston faces nickel and dime defenses, the more lethal its passing game will become. The backfield needs a powerful, downhill runner who can get between the tackles, lower his head and pick up the extra yards as a complement to Steve Slaton."
Players to keep an eye on come draft day:
1. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: The 5-11, 218-pound bruiser finished second in the country in rushing last season (1,808 yards) and found the end zone 19 times. Mathews is a rare blend of size and speed (4.48 40-yard dash at the combine) that has the ability to outrun defenders down the sidelines. He runs a bit upright at times, but can pound it between the tackles all day long.
2. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State: One of the more underrated running backs in this year's draft class, Dixon rushed for 1,391 yards (second in the SEC) and 12 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2009. Keep in mind, he averaged a rock-solid 5.4 yards per carry despite facing elite defenses and running behind a below-average offensive line on a weekly basis. At 6-0, 233 pounds, this guy will be a steal in the second or third rounds. We got a good look at Dixon during practice week at the Senior Bowl and he did not disappoint.
3. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech: Dwyer reminds us both of Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart. He won't run a blazing 40-yard dash (4.69 at the combine) but he shows up on tape a heck of a lot faster. The 5-11, 229-pound Yellow Jacket ranked third in the ACC in rushing yards (1,395 yards) and touchdowns (14) last season, despite facing defenses that were consistently stacking seven and eight men in the box.
4. Montario Hardesty, Tennessee: Injuries are a concern here, which is why Hardesty will fall on draft day. But make no mistake, when this guy is healthy, he can flat-out play. Hardesty ran for 1,345 yards (fourth in SEC) and 13 touchdowns (third) for a Volunteers team that struggled at times to throw the football in 2009. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Hardesty's 4.51 40-yard dash at the combine turned some heads and demonstrated he's not only got the size, but the straight-line speed as well. One place where this guy separates himself is in the passing game. Hardesty caught 25 passes for 302 yards last season and did an excellent job blocking when asked to stay in the backfield on passing downs.
Saturday Specials (intriguing players likely to be drafted on Saturday (Rounds 4-7) of the draft):
Dimitri Nance, Arizona State: The 5-10, 218-pound Nance averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns running behind an average offensive line on a 4-8 football team in 2009. Nance is a thick, well-built back who runs with good leverage and knows how to push the pile on contact. He isn't explosive when attacking the line of scrimmage and possesses an average first step, but he gets up to speed quickly. He takes short, compact steps and displays impressive balance between the tackles.
Lonyae Miller, Fresno State: Miller tends to fly below the radar since he spent the 2009 season playing second-fiddle to Ryan Mathews. But the 5-11, 221 pound back averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season on his way to 354 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Miller isn't the most physical of runners, but he posted a 4.58 40-yard-dash at the combine and has a nice burst that helps the 21-year-old get to the edge. He runs a bit upright, but Miller posted a respectable 20 touchdowns in four years at Fresno State and could fit nicely as a role-player who gets 7-12 carries per game.