What's Going to Happen in the Houston Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Houston running back situation

Houston has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

At some point in 2017, most of the fantasy community seemed to conclude D'Onta Foreman would take over for Lamar Miller in 2018. Some pontificated Miller would be released during the offseason. Then Foreman tore his Achilles in November. His return date is still unclear, and Miller is still around. Is there a changing of the guard in 2018, or does Miller hold off a rehabbing Foreman all season? Is there room for another running back on the roster to carve out a role?

Daniel Simpkins: I believe people are frustrated with Miller because they believe there's potential for more output in this offense. They forget that Miller has over 1,000 all-purpose yards every season since 2014. He may not have been great, but he's been solid. Assuming he's fully rehabilitated his Achilles, I agree that Foreman, if the coaching staff gives him a legitimate chance to challenge, may be more dynamic. Like Alex Collins, he's got fantastic foot frequency and wiggle for being such a big guy. Yet I'm not sure the coaching staff is unhappy with Miller, and opportunity is going to be important in this situation. Let's monitor this situation in camp, but my current feeling is that Miller is once again going to do enough to hold him off and get most of the touches.

Devin Knotts: Last year, Lamar Miller was limited by D'Onta Foreman getting carries. This year, I don't suspect that this will be the case as Achilles injuries have to be one of the worst injuries you can have. I fully expect Foreman to have a recovery season and start the season on PUP or IR.

This leaves Miller as the main candidate to get a significant amount of carries. Many will point to his yards-per-carry declining last season, but the Texans had mid-season turmoil with their offensive line with the trade of Duane Brown. The offensive line should be better with the addition of right guard Senio Kelemete and right tackle Seantrel Henderson. Miller is one of my favorite value plays this season.

Jason Wood: While I hear what Devin is saying, and want to buy into the bullish narrative, it's not as though Miller's 2017 struggles were an anomaly. Miller has been in steady decline for years, and history isn't kind to players in multi-year declines bouncing back to relevance.

  • Miller averaged 5.1 yards per rush in 2014, and it's declined every subsequent year (4.5 in '15, 4.0 in '16, and 3.7 in '17)
  • His rushing touchdown rate was 3.7% in 2014 and 4.1% in 2015. It fell to 1.9% in 2016 and reached an abysmally low 1.3% last year

A more optimistic bent would note Miller has at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage in each of the last four seasons, and no worse than six touchdowns.

With no clear competition on the roster, Miller could well slot into the 1,200-yard, 5-6 touchdown role again. And that would be good enough for a low-end fantasy RB2 value.

But what about DeShaun Watson? If he's going to live up to fantasy expectations, a big part of his value will be his rushing ability. Why won't Watson vulture touchdowns at the goal line?

Knotts: Even if you don't believe there is any upside in Miller, his consistency has to be valued.

There are three players who have finished in the Top 20 every season for the last four seasons:

Jeff Haseley: Good stat!

Wood: Good stat, Devin. I would bet all three stand a better than average chance of falling short of the top 20 this year, for differing reasons.

Chad Parsons: I am all-in on Lamar Miller this year. D'Onta Foreman was one of my favorite running backs prospects in last year's class and Foreman pushed Miller as 2017 progressed. However, a late-season Achilles injury puts Foreman on the 'unlikely' track to challenge Miller again (best case) until later in 2018. Miller has minimal competition, yet is priced in the ripe low RB2 or high RB3 zone where a few top-12 producers reside preseason each season. I expect regression from the high-flying Houston offense led by Deshaun Watson overall, but there is still nothing but profit built into Miller's 2018 price.

Bob Henry: I feel like I should be more bullish or opportunistic with MIller than I have been in my drafting so far this summer. If Foreman weren't coming off the Achilles injury, I'd be all over him and completely off Miller, but it's part of the evaluation process and cannot be dismissed at this stage since we don't truly know how much of a factor it is, or might continue to be, come September.

Miller isn't a sexy pick, but he's also more beleaguered then he probably deserves. If Watson returns to his playmaking self, with more weapons in this offense, Miller could be one of the bigger surprises of the year.

Miller's best draft angle might be for those who go with a receiver in the first round (Brown or Beckham, not Hopkins) and you're unable to snare a rookie like Penny, Michel or (my favorite back in this strategy) Mark Ingram II. Miller could be the sleeper play.

That said, if Foreman is back to health then I like him to emerge and perhaps become the lead back for the Texans over the second half of the season. His ADP feels a little more bullish, though, so he's not on any of my rosters so far.

Ryan Hester: The Achilles injury is the most explosion-sapping one for running backs. It's unfortunate for Foreman, who looked poised to overtake Miller this season. But given the potential for Foreman to start the year on the PUP List (and the fact that he may not be back to 100% at any point this season, if ever), Miller becomes attractive.

The offense should be improved with Watson returning, Watson's mobility should help to open lanes for Miller, and Miller's opportunity isn't likely to be challenged by any other back currently on the roster. Alfred Blue will get carries but only to give Miller rest. When drafted by Houston, Tyler Ervin was considered a pass-catcher, but he's also unproven and won't see the field in the red zone.

Miller is being drafted as a low-end RB2, and he has RB1 opportunity and upside. Buy him now before the Foreman-to-PUP news becomes official.

Andy Hicks: The Houston Texans running back situation is very frustrating for the fantasy community. The potential for a strong fantasy option is there, but we are stuck with Lamar Miller. Into his seventh year, Miller has been reliable, but capable of better. He will take what he is given, but no more than that. He presents as a disappointing late RB2 that few fantasy owners will want to make, but on this team, the other options are even more likely to disappoint. The obvious heir apparent is D’Onta Foreman but is coming off an Achilles injury that could hamper him heading into this year. He also offers little as a receiver and projects better as a backup, than leading man. The other options such as Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin do not look NFL quality and aren’t worth roster consideration. Ultimately we are waiting for a decent back to team up with DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson - 2019 here we come.