For 8 consecutive weeks this Spring/Summer I will be going division by division and evaluating the RB corps of each team. I’ll be assessing both the overall talent and depth that each team has at the position, while taking into account whether they use a workhorse back as their primary weapon or if they use a committee of backs to get the job done. This week’s featured division will be the AFC South.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Josh Ferguson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones, Karan Higdon
Lamar Miller will once again be the starter for the Texans. He’s been a solid RB for several seasons and runs with good explosiveness. However, he’s not the type of RB I look at as being an ideal workhorse back for an offense. His ideal role would be as part of a tandem with someone else instead of having to carry the load.
D’Onta Foreman is the guy who we’ve been waiting for to take over as the starter in place of Miller for a couple seasons now. He showed promise in his rookie season, but an Achilles tear cost him not only the rest of that season but most of 2018 as well. Now that he seems to be fully recovered, the team expects a lot from him heading into this season. Foreman is a bigger back who moves as if he’s a smaller back. His athleticism is very impressive, and he’s also shown to be a good receiver too. The ability is there, he just has to stay healthy.
— NFL on Texans (@NFLOnTexans) August 20, 2017
So far if there’s a person who’s in the lead to win the 3rd spot on the depth chart it’s Josh Ferguson. Ferguson is a scat back who spent his first two seasons with the Colts and then was brought onto the Texans practice squad in 2018. He struggled during his time in Indy with being a threat in open space and making people miss with elusiveness, which is what a RB of his mold is being counted on to do. But with added experience and developed athleticism he may finally be able to flourish in that role.
Veterans Buddy Howell and Taiwan Jones as well as rookie free agent Karan Higdon will be competing with each other for the final spots. Higdon is the most intriguing player of the 3, as he shows some solid traits as an interior gap scheme runner.
The Texans were one of the teams that I felt really needed to upgrade their RB Corps this offseason, but as it stands it’s very difficult to say that they have. The team refrained from adding other notable talent to the group because they’re putting stock into Foreman’s development and him having a breakout season, or at the very least being part of a 1-2 punch with Miller. For a team with a questionable offensive line, their ground game may end up struggling more than they’re hoping for.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Spencer Ware, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
Despite missing 4 of the first 5 games of the 2018 season, Marlon Mack was able to gain 1,011 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 12 games. I liked Mack during the draft process in 2017 as he showed very good explosiveness as a runner. His footwork can be a bit sloppy and impatient at times, but his vision has already improved from year 1 to year 2 and he’s starting to show even better cutting ability and elusiveness in space. He’s a good RB that fits the role of lead ball-carrier well for the Colts.
Nyheim Hines came in last season andestablished himself as the passing-down RB for the offense by displaying his big play ability and versatility. Hines isn’t someone that’s going to go East-West a lot. He’d rather run past and pull away from a defender than dance around them, and honestly when you’ve got speed like he has that’s probably the smart thing to do. But he is more than capable of making defenders miss with jukes and spin moves in space when he needs to. Hines’ receiving ability is just as impressive as his speed though and he needs to be recognized as one of the better pass-catching running backs in the entire league.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 30, 2018
Considering that Mack has had some injuries that have caused him to miss time in each of his first 2 seasons, it was necessary that the Colts find a RB that could fill in for Mack for a few games if he were to miss time, and former Kansas City Chief Spencer Ware was the guy. People often forget that in 2016 Ware ran for 921 yards with an average of 4.3 yards per carry, as well as gaining 447 receiving yards. He may not be an elite runner by any means, but he is more talented than people give him credit for. He should fit in very well as the primary backup to Mack.
Jordan Wilkins will likely keep his roster spot over veteran Jonathan Williams, as Wilkins has played decently well in certain spots when called upon.
The Colts have one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines in football, and that should help make this solid corps of running backs very productive this season. Mack and Hines are both very young still and work well with each other as a tandem in this offense.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Alfred Blue, Thomas Rawls, Benny Cunningham, Taj McGowan
I don’t think there’s a RB in the league who has had a bigger drop in my evaluations than Leonard Fournette. I was very high on Fournette his rookie year. He was someone with a scary blend of power and speed who ran with ruthless aggression. I also thought he was very capable of developing into a decent receiving option. He played very well his rookie year, but in 2018 his play declined significantly. Some of it may have been due to him not being healthy, but the running styles he uses does invite a lot of contact and makes him subjective to more injuries. He has to prove that he can still be a great runner with little effect from being banged up.
If Fournette doesn’t live up to the expectations placed on him, the Jaguars brought in a rookie RB in Ryquell Armstead as a backup plan. He is essentially a Fournette clone in terms of running style and traits. He’s a big back with good power and impressive speed (he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine). Something else I noticed about Fournette’s game is his tendency to use the spin move a lot. He might have only been a 5th round pick, but in the right scheme he can be very productive. He’ll have to earn his spot first of course, especially with the other veteran runners on the team, but I do believe his ceiling is higher than the rest.
5th rd 2nd pick to Jacksonville
Current ADP: 49th overall
With Fournette consistently being out of the lineup for a myriad of reasons, Armstead has as good of a chance to see the field as anyone else… And at 220 lbs and a 4.45 40yd, he could be effective too pic.twitter.com/ZJChtK11IH
— Dynasty Price (@DynastyPrice) May 7, 2019
Alfred Blue, Thomas Rawls, and Benny Cunningham are veteran running backs who will fill out the rest of the depth chart. Blue is a former Texan who decided to stay in the division. He was the backup in Houston for several seasons, but I was never too impressed with him. Rawls once had a shot at being the guy for the Seattle Seahawks, but injuries made him too unreliable and declined his game. If he can’t beat out Blue then it’s very possible he gets cut in favor of Cunningham who is expected to be a special teams contributor. McGowan is an undrafted free agent and is unlikely to make the final 53.
Something that is drastically missing from this Jaguars RB corps is a dynamic change-of-pace RB to complement the other runners. They could use a versatile weapon out of the backfield who would provide a legitimate receiving threat. Without that, it’s difficult to really put this group as one of the better ones in the league, regardless of how Fournette performs in 2019.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols, Dalyn Dawkins, Alex Barnes
One of the backfields I was most eager to see in 2018 was the Titans’ with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. They were your classic “Thunder & Lightning” duo. However, that tandem didn’t pan out quite as well as I had hoped it would in their first year together. Some of that was certainly on Head Coach Mike Vrabel and former Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur for not using Henry more early in the season, and some of it was certainly on the offensive line too, but Henry and Lewis certainly could have been better on their end as well.
Derrick Henry (@KingHenry_2) made major plays in 2018. 👑
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) July 5, 2019
At 6’3” 247 lbs, Henry has scary size and speed for a RB. He’s not explosive, but if he’s able to get up to full speed he’s so difficult to stop (think of a huge boulder rolling down a hill). He doesn’t really have great agility or change-of-direction, but that’s not really expected for someone his size. His vision and decision making still worry me at times, but he has improved. When he was finally given a heavy workload late in the season, he seemed to play a lot better as he was able to get into more of a rhythm as the game went along. It’s expected that he’ll continue to be the workhorse for the Titans in 2019.
Lewis developed into such an underrated RB in New England. People think he’s just another scatback who’s primarily just a receiving threat, but Lewis was also a very good and efficient runner for the Patriots. He had a good understanding of running schemes and how to run both inside and out. He also knew how to lower his shoulder and gain some tough yards when necessary, on top of being one of the most elusive runners in the league. He was a true dual threat. Going to Tennessee I thought that would continue, but so far it hasn’t. He was leaned on heavily as a receiver and he performed well in that role, but he couldn’t really get anything going on the ground all season. I still think he’s capable of bouncing back and having a much better year in 2019, and he should have every opportunity to do so as he’ll once again be the complement to Henry.
David Fluellen has been getting reps at FB and might end up making the switch to that position. Jeremy McNichols, Dalyn Dawkins, and Alex Barnes will be competing for the last couple of spots on the depth chart. McNichols may have the advantage as of right now, but I wouldn’t count out the other 2 guys, especially Barnes.