We all know that the Houston Texans have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. And up until late last season, we thought that their running game would be led by West Virginia alum Steve Slaton, who had a fabulous rookie campaign in 2008 marked by 1,282 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. He was one of the most loved players leading up to the draft last year, as his ADP easily cracked the top 15.
However, last year Slaton fumbled the ball early and often, finishing with 7 total fumbles on the year, with 5 of them lost. This cost him not only snaps, but games. He appeared in only 11 games last year after starting all 16 his rookie year. What cost him even further was his ineffective rushing. After a stellar 4.8 yards per carry in '08, that average dropped to 3.3 and less than half as many carries as he got in 2008.
However, he was used even more as a receiver out of the backfield and still could have some use in fantasy leagues. But after drafting Ben Tate in the second round of this April's draft, the Houston Texans have shown us that they are serious about reducing Slaton's role in the offense if he keeps up his fumbling problem. This was something they did last season by letting Arian Foster start some games, but drafting Tate shows that Foster obviously won't have too big of a role going forward.
ADP: 71, 29th running back selected
By the numbers:
- Last year as a senior at Auburn, Tate managed 1,362 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 236 carries, just over 5 yards per. He is a hard nosed runner whose style assures that he will not be brought down often in the backfield, and he turned in the third-fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at the NFL Combine—a solid 4.43.
- Unless Steve Slaton can really impress at training camp, I feel that Houston's starting running back role is Tate's to lose. The fact that Slaton was a fumble machine and almost exclusively used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield before going down to a neck injury in week 13 shows that the team has all but lost its faith in Slaton's ability to carry the workload as the starting back.
- Houston led the league in passing yards per game last year (290.9 yards/game) and were fourth in the league in 2008 (266.7 yards/game). The Texans' passing offense was able to open up big holes for Steve Slaton and will offer the same advantage for Tate.
- Finally, it is worth mentioning that in a draft class as deep as this year's, no savvy team in the league would use a second round pick on a player it didn't intended to give a large role to.
Summary: To me, it's been written on the wall that this job is Tate's to lose. He has all the talent to succeed in the NFL, not to mention a great supporting cast. Finally, the fact that Slaton seemingly fell out of favor with the coaching staff last year just makes it even easier for Tate to try and carry over his college success to the NFL.