Statistically, the Texans running game in 2022 wasn't that much better than it was in 2021.
Houston averaged 86.8 yards per game in 2022 a year after going for 83.6 yards per.
But it FELT different with the emergence of rookie Dameon Pierce in 2022, who ultimately becomes the starting point for the 2023 Texans offense, regardless of who takes over as the offensive coordinator.
That said, there has yet to be an OC or DC named to the coaching staff, just head coach DeMeco Ryans.
So the outlook on ANY position group will change over the next three, four weeks, months…years, etc.
Nothing is set in stone, but there's a team to build, so let's dive into what we know right now and how that impacts the team building for 2023.
Here's my Position Breakdown for the Texans RB in 2023.
Under contract, returning for 2023
Dameon Pierce - 2022 4th rounder - Pierce became the number one, the alpha, the star in the running game, appealing to fans and Texans players alike with his bruising style and flashy smile. His run at Jacksonville was…put it this way, I saw it live and couldn't believe he never went down. I saw it the other day again and it was just as incredible as it was in person. Pierce fell short of 1000 yards only because he was injured at Dallas with four games left in the season. That said, it's nice to know that the Texans have Pierce ready to roll in 2023 and beyond.
2022 stats - 220 carries, 939 yards, four TD, 30 receptions, 165 yards and one TD
Dare Ogunbowale - 2017 college free agent, Returned as a 2022 free agent - I loved the fact that the Texans brought Ogunbowale back into the fold. He's the perfect teammate. He's a vital contributor on special teams and when he finally got touches out in Las Vegas, he showed he could be a valuable offensive piece going forward. Winning teams have, at least, two or three Dare Ogunbowale types on the roster. I'm glad the original Dare Ogunbowale is here in Houston. He understands his role and how he can impact this squad every day, game and season.
2022 stats - 42 carries, 123 yards, one TD, 20 receptions for 104 yards
Darius Anderson - 2021 free agent - Anderson had some definite "wow" moments in training camp before he damaged his kneecap in the late summer. How he rebounds from that injury will determine his fate for 2023 and beyond. He can fly when he's fully healthy and that speed is as valuable as anything else in the NFL. His nickname is Jet, so what does that tell you? It's just a matter of how healthy he will be in 2023.
2022 stats - Missed the entire season with a kneecap injury suffered in training camp.
(FB) Troy Hairston - 2022 undrafted free agent - What a find Hairston was in the 2022 undrafted free agent process! He was a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year but got to Houston and changed positions to fullback. He's a road grader with a nose for a different-colored jersey. He helped set the tone for Pierce and the running game, leading the way on some of Pierce's biggest runs of the 2022 season. His hammerhead style seems to fit the exact mantra/style that DeMeco Ryans envisions for his entire team.
2022 stats - No carries, multiple key blocks, five receptions for 19 yards
2022 Texans' unrestricted free agents - status unknown to this point
Rex Burkhead - Rex will be 33 in July and filled nearly every role for the Texans the past two seasons. He was the lead back. He was the complementary back. He was the third down back. He did it all but he only had 26 carries last year. That said, he did register 37 receptions, tied for third on the team.
2022 stats - 26 carries, 80 yards, 37 receptions, 204 yards and one TD
Royce Freeman - Given the opportunity at the end of the season, Freeman didn't rack up a ton of yardage but he was reliable and dependable. He ran for just 117 yards on 41 carries and another 33 yards in receiving. He's a thick back who picked up seven first downs on his 41 totes.
2022 stats - 41 carries, 117 yards, six receptions 33 yards
Available unrestricted free agents THAT MAKE SENSE
Thinking about unrestricted free agents is tough in some sense, trying to find the right fit and the right money. Knowing Pierce is the lead back and that I really, REALLY don't want to spend a TON of money at this position (BUT, I'm not scared), here are some reasonable fits/targets.
Alexander Mattison, Vikings - Mattison will turn 25 before the start of the season and might be looking to be RB1 somewhere. I don't blame him for that whatsoever, but he could be the 1b option to Pierce as the 1a option in a two headed monster type backfield. He runs HARD and exacts a punishment on a defense. Imagine having TWO backs that did that.
2022 stats - 74 carries for 283 yards, five TD, 15 receptions, 91 yards, one TD
Devin Singletary, Bills - The Bills' top back will turn 26 in September and has over 700 touches to his credit in his four-year career. I don't know if the Bills will bring him back, or even try to bring him back, given the money they have allocated to other resources. As such, Singletary seems like a perfect scat back type complement to Pierce. Mattison would continue the power show. Singletary would bring a completely different element alongside Pierce.
2022 stats - 177 carries, 819 yards, five TD, 38 receptions, 280 yards, one TD
Damien Harris, Patriots - Harris was drafted in New England in 2019 where Nick Caserio resided for the first two years of Harris' career. He will turn 26 in February and had his biggest season in 2021 when he ran for 929 yards. But the Patriots have never made a habit of paying large for a running back so perhaps Harris is a reasonable option.
2022 stats - 106 carries, 462 yards, three TD (15 TD in 2021), 17 receptions, 97 yards
Raheem Mostert, Dolphins - Mostert will be 31 years old by the start of the 2023 season, but he still has serious top end speed and just 465 career carries on his 31-year old legs. And, lest I forget, his best seasons were with the San Francisco 49ers from 2017 to 2020, so Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans knows him well. Plus, as I've mentioned many times, he doesn't have to be THAT guy, just a speedy complement to Pierce.
2022 stats - 181 carries, 891 yards, three TD, 31 receptions, 202 yards, two TD.
Trayveon Williams, Bengals - The native Houstonian will be 26 in October and was stuck behind Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine after a glorious career at Texas A&M. Of all the buy low/sell high types of backs on my list here, Williams might be the buy lowest/sell highest of the group. He has juice and needs an opportunity. Perhaps that opportunity is right in his hometown.
2022 stats - six carries, 30 yards, 2 receptions, 30 yards
Justice Hill, Ravens - It's a similar story for Hill: one of the fastest backs in the NFL. He'll also turn 26 in November, but his issue has been injuries, especially the torn Achilles he suffered in 2021. Two years removed from that, Hill could find success in an offense that desperately needs to get FASTER, right now.
2022 stats - 49 carries, 262 yards, 12 receptions, 58 yards
JH Crush List - Rookies by Texans draft selection THAT MAKE SENSE
1st round - 2nd overall
1st round - 12th overall
Bijan Robinson, Texas (6-0, 214 lb)
2nd round - 33rd overall
Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (5-11, 200 lb)
Devon Achane, Texas A&M (5-9, 185 lb)
3rd round - 65th overall
Chase Brown, Illinois (5-11, 205 lb)
Tank Bigsby, Auburn (6-0, 208 lb)
Tyjae Spears, Tulane (5-11, 195 lb)
3rd round - 73rd overall
Sean Tucker, Syracuse (5-10, 210 lb)
Roschon Johnson, Texas (6-2, 219 lb)
4th round - 103rd overall
Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State (5-6, 176 lb)
Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota (5-10, 210 lb)
Kendre Miller, TCU (6-0, 220 lb)
5th round - 136th overall
Jordan Mims, Fresno State (6-0, 205 lb)
Eric Gray, Oklahoma (5-10, 206 lb)
6th round - 186th, 201st and 205th overall
Deneric Prince, Tulsa (6-0, 219 lb)
7th round - 238th overall
Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina (5-9, 184 lb)