Listen to enough of the coaching interviews at the NFL combine, and you'll come away thinking that "consistency" is a panacea for everything. In Houston, there hasn't been much positive consistency to hold on to over the past couple of seasons. J.J. Watt is J.J. Watt, of course. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph has been steady and, I feel, overlooked by most fans. But the only player on offense who has really shown consistency over the past few seasons is running back Arian Foster.
Foster is a unique running back. Other elite running backs are out here to dominate you with size or speed. Marshawn Lynch is going to run you over. Jamaal Charles is going to burn past you. Watching Arian Foster on a good day is like watching an expertly navigated parasailor. He's trapped in the backfield all the way until he runs off a nine-yard gain through a hole your defense forgot about.
While I come at this from a biased perspective, he's simply a joy to watch play when he's healthy. His off-field demeanor rubs some fans the wrong way, as you'll see if you ever catch him on a Twitter binge. But it's been amazing to watch Foster make fools of us all for the better part of a decade.
Unfortunately, as Phillip Fry would say, time is also around to make fools of us all. Foster has missed time with injuries often over the past few seasons. Though I think his style helps fight it, Foster is an NFL running back, and that timetable doesn't lend itself to a graceful decline. At the combine on Thursday, Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien admitted that he may need to manage Foster's workload next season.
It's hard to ever say that a running back contract like Foster's was a good one. The Arian Foster the Texans paid for from 2012-2014 hasn't been healthy and hasn't been quite as amazing as he was in 2010 and 2011. (Though, to be fair, his offensive line declined after 2011.)
But considering rational analysis about running back decline, this has been a fairly good return for the Texans on their money. The problem now is that Foster, on the penultimate year of his contract, will turn 29 before the season at a position where players are sometimes washed up at 26 or 27.
As I said, I think Foster's style has increased his longevity. But now we're entering the age territory with Foster where the risk of relying on him only climbs.
|Arian Foster's Contract and Results|
|Year||Age||Cap Number||DYAR (Rk)||DVOA (Rk)|
|2012||26||$8 million||105 (13)||-1.6% (20)|
|2013||27||$8.25 million||99 (19)||11.4% (8)|
|2014||28||$8.5 million||169 (9)||7.6% (10)|
|Sources: Over The Cap, Football Outsiders|
Foster's backup last season, LSU bowling ball Alfred Blue, performed admirably for a sixth-round pick if you just pretend counting stats are all that matter. When I say bowling ball, I mean that as literally as I possibly can about a human being. By which I mean Blue also has the vision of a bowling ball. Statistically, it's not pretty. Blue finished dead last among all qualified backs in DYAR and DVOA, per Football Outsiders.
I'm actually fairly big on undrafted backup Jonathan Grimes, in so much as I think he has an actual NFL role to play. But nobody is going to confuse him for a replacement for Foster. Practice squad back Ben Malena doesn't appear to be a hidden gem either.
Fortunately for the Texans, this draft class is absolutely steeped in running back talent.
While I am not about to go Full Kollman and recommend the Texans spend a first-round pick on the position, I think the need for a future plan at the position is pretty telling on the depth chart.
What level of investment is the right one for the Texans? I'd start digging in around the third or fourth round. There are still plenty of holes to be addressed on this roster even as quarterback is ignored. Edge-rusher is an issue with the Texans unable to count on Jadeveon Clowney's return. (Whitney Mercilus will be a free agent after the season as well.) Tight end could use a boost, as could the secondary depending on what happens with Joseph and free-agent corner Kareem Jackson.
|Potential Mid-Round Running Backs|
|Player||College||Projected Overall||Projected Round|
|Mike Davis||South Carolina||80||2-3|
|Source: NFL Draft Scout|
And, to be honest, I think the class is deep enough that a pick in this range can still be a long-term starter for the Texans. Especially when you note that some of the teams that need backs will likely fill the hole in free agency. I think it'd be an ideal situation if the Texans could wind up with a player like Alabama's T.J. Yeldon or Minnesota's David Cobb.
Nobody actually knows when Arian Foster will finally run out of gas. I don't even want to bet on it happening this season. But at 29, the Texans are at the point where putting all the chips on Foster is no longer a viable plan.
All DYAR and DVOA numbers cited are courtesy of Football Outsiders. Learn more about DVOA here.
Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.