Evaluating The Texans’ Backfield

By Asher Molk - @AsherMolk
polk
Aug
10
2015

Well, we’ve already had our first major injury of this young NFL season. At training camp last week, Arian Foster suffered a groin injury that proved to require surgery mere minutes after he was selected at 9th overall in the Apex Expert’s League draft

Sadly, soft-tissue injuries have been a theme for Foster over the years even though his per-game performance has remained elite. But in the next-man-up culture that pervades the NFL, we must look onward to the players vying for carries in Houston for the first couple months of the 2015 season. The three main candidates are Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk, and Alfred Blue. It is entirely possible this situation turns into a full-blown committee attack, but who possesses the most upside if they win the job?

Athleticism and Measurables

It isn’t always easy to measure a player’s intangibles and effectiveness by measurables, but athleticism does sincerely matter and it can help give us an idea of who possesses the most potential- especially when analyzing players with such limited NFL histories. Here is a table displaying the college measurables and athletic scores of each of the Texans’ runners:

Texans RBs Measurables (In Percentiles)

Player40 TimeBurst ScoreSpeed ScoreAgility ScoreCollege DominatorBreakout AgeSPARQ Score
Jonathan Grimes47th38th86th93rd97th94th86th
Chris Polk51st65th4th45th64th68th23rd
Alfred Blue31st45th25th11th1stN/A2nd

Jonathan Grimes is probably the best pure athlete of the bunch. Blowing the other two out of the water in terms of speed score, agility score, and SPARQ score, he would likely be the most successful at creating his own yards. His college dominator rating (an RB’s percentage of his college team’s total yards) is also quite impressive compared to Polk and Blue, and so is his breakout age. It is worth noting he played much worse competition at William and Mary than Polk (Washington) and Blue (LSU).

Polk is a relatively average athlete, while his explosiveness (fourth percentile in burst score) is incredibly poor. His college dominator rating and breakout age, while worse than Grimes’, are still above average however. He had quite a nice career at Washington and was rated by a few evaluators as one of the better backs in the draft that year, but NFL teams were concerned with his injury history as he went undrafted. He found some success in Philadelphia last year, but otherwise has almost no NFL history to go off of.

Blue was the man who filled in for Foster last year, but not very effectively (3.1 YPC and two rushing scores). He is without question the worst athlete of the three, along with having the least prolific college career (ironically, he was the only one who actually cost a team draft capital as a 6th round pick). He does nothing well athletically, and his college dominator rating (1st percentile) and SPARQ score (2nd) show how poor of a prospect he actually is. He is by far the least likely to create his own yards in Houston.

2014 Performance

With the help of the fantastic work of Pro Football Focus, we can take a look at how these players passed the eye test in their limited 2014 roles. Let’s see how they fared- remember that these ratings are out of 148 qualifying running backs:

Texans RBs PFF Ratings (Out of 148)

PlayerOverallRunningReceivingBlockingYards After Contact Per Attempt
Jonathan Grimes47th57th106th23rd56th
Chris Polk40th42nd77th38th39th
Alfred Blue133rd133rd125th87th83rd

These rankings roughly match up to their respective measurable athleticism. Polk was probably the best of the bunch at 40th overall as well as topping Grimes and Blue in the Overall, Running, Receiving, and Yards After Contact Per Attempt. It is completely up to you if you want to take those ratings with a grain of salt considering he played in Chip Kelly’s offense.

Grimes was not too far behind Polk in most categories besides receiving, but it is definitely notable he fared quite well (23rd overall) in pass blocking. PPR leaguers should keep this in mind.

Blue was considerably worse in every measure by a good amount as he fared worse than about 84% of qualifying running backs in the Overall, Running, and Receiving categories. He ranked far behind in every single category by a significant amount compared to Grimes and Polk.

Conclusion

Clearly, we have to temper expectations about whoever ends up with the majority of the carries in Houston until Foster returns. Alfred Blue had by far the biggest role in 2014, but flopped pretty badly per his stats and PFF ratings. He is also an incredibly poor athlete. He is, however, the starter as of right now. He also costs the most fantasy draft capital with an ADP of 9.03.

Grimes played some passing down roles as he is a very good blocker and has some athletic upside, but seems to be destined for career backup duties. But with an ADP of undrafted, you can cheaply keep an eye on him.

Polk had success in Chip Kelly’s scheme but is still a bit unproven. Some reports think he’ll get a crack at replacing Foster, and coach Bill O’Brien has said he thinks Polk can be a three-down contributor. But we can likely chalk that up to optimistic coachspeak. With an ADP in the 13th round, he’s probably my favorite lottery ticket of the three.

Ultimately, all three backs will probably play a role in replacing Foster. Keeping expectations tempered is a must, but with a team so bereft of playmakers behind emerging star DeAndre Hopkins, someone is going to be handed some valuable touches.

I’d pass on Blue (much better players than him at his given ADP) and take Polk later in the draft in hopes of him ending up with the most touches. Keep your eye on the latest news and preseason action as this situation plays itself out.

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