While I think it may be a little too early in camp — just four days in — to start making predictions about who wins a roster spot, it’s never too early to make educated guesses.
With the departure of Justin Forsett in the offseason and Ben Tate never a lock to stay healthy, it would appear that the battle to be his replacement is wide open in camp. The Houston Texans would like to avoid another workload for Arian Foster like he had in 2012, when he carried the ball 351 times. With the uncertainty over what Tate will bring to the club this season, this is a big opportunity for some young players to make the squad in camp.
The contenders who will scratch and claw for this role are former Indianapolis Colts return man Deji Karim and undrafted free agents Dennis Johnson, Ray Graham and Cierre Wood. Each brings somewhat of a different pedigree and style, but which one is the best fit? Since we don’t have any game action at this level yet, buzz, word-of-mouth and college game tape are all we have to go off of.
Karim has carried the ball less than 100 times in his career and has stuck around the league returning kicks. In fact, his 101-yard kickoff return against the Texans last year was pivotal in their defeat. Unless he shows something really strong in camp, his best chance to make the club is in the return game, not the running game.
Graham is an undersized runner who is very physical for his size. He had a draftable grade from most prospects and to get him undrafted was a nice addition. His injury history was the only thing that slid him out of the draft, and that’s a valid concern with his running style; he’s elusive and depends on explosiveness. If his surgically repaired knee can’t regain said explosiveness, he could be on the outside looking in when camp breaks.
Wood was once thought of as a top-50 prospect before his suspension and down season his senior year. Still, just one season removed from 1,000-plus yards and nine touchdowns, he has to have be ahead of the pack on paper at this point. He’s willing to run up the middle and has great acceleration. His ball security and unrefined skills as a blocker are the things to watch for improvement on.
Johnson, who was my prediction to win this job the day after the draft, is gaining a lot of buzz around spectators at Texans training camp. My reasoning for placing the high expectations on Johnson were mostly because of game film. He is a wrecking ball in the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew at 5-foot-6 and a rock-solid 200 pounds. His play against stiff SEC defenses also might be what has garnered my attention.
The words that Texans play-by-play man Marc Vandermeer used to describe the buzz around him right now is “he’s becoming that type of player that makes it impossible to cut him.” He does everything you ask him to, hangs onto the ball and is willing special teams player. That’s precisely how you make the final roster as an undrafted free agent.
It’s way to early to call anything a lock before they’ve even taken a preseason snap. But if I was asked to make my prediction today, it would be that Johnson is the new RB3 in Houston.
Assuming that this group is healthy, finally, a three-headed monster at running back could be in the works. If Foster is the lightning and Tate is the thunder, Johnson is poised to be the clean-up crew.
Mike Kerns is a Houston Texans writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” his page on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also subscribe to his Texans podcast on iTunes.