March 21, 2018

Tale of the Tape: Texans RB UDFAs

The story around the NFL last week was about the 2013 NFL Draft.  In Houston, the draft garnered excitement as well, but it was what the organization did afterwards that caught my eye.  The Texans have one of the top running backs in the NFL in Arian Foster and another young talented back in Ben Tate.  Foster led all running backs in touches in 2012 and Ben Tate can’t seem to stay healthy.  The team had to add competition for the number three back and hopefully find one that can take the reins if Foster and Tate can’t perform to their usual standard.  Houston had this in mind as they added three priority undrafted free agent running backs.  I’ve spent the last few days looking at tape of the three running backs and assessing where they might fit in Houston.  I’ve included my findings below in what I’m calling the “Tale of the Tape”.


Tale of the Tape Ray Graham

Ray Graham

Ray Graham

Ht:                   5’9

Wt:                  199

40  time:         4.68

10 yd split:      1.70

Vertical:          32”

Broad:             9’04”

20 yd Shuttle:            4.21

3 cone:            7.03

Reps:               18

Career Rush:   3,271 yds

Rush TDs:        32 TDs

Career Rec:     98

Rec Yards:       799 yds

Rec TDs:          4 TDs


When evaluating Ray Graham, it was like watching two different players.  There is Ray Graham BK (Before Knee Injury) and Ray Graham AK (After Knee Injury).  You can see the similarities in the two players but it’s the differences that caused him to go undrafted.


Before Graham tore his ACL against the University of Connecticut in 2011, he was averaging 134 yards a game.  He was explosive, ran with power at the point of contact, lowered his pads to gain balance through the tackle and maybe the most exciting aspect was that he had a diabolical spin move that never looked forced or out of control.  Let’s now fast forward to 2012.


Ray never lost his vision or cutting ability.  He also showed talented hands out of the backfield.  Due to the agility in his lateral movements, this still makes him a threat in the NFL, especially on third downs.  A positive that came from Graham’s injury was the fact that he became more patient on developing blocks.  If he can ever regain his 2011 form, this would make him even more deadly than Ray Graham BK.


The Texans were smart to add Graham as a priority undrafted free agent.  Marcus Lattimore was more publicized but the two backs have a similar story.  Both were at the top of the running backs’ rank in college football and neither regained the form that they once showed.  The 49ers wisely used one of their many draft selections to add Lattimore into an already heavily saturated backfield.  There is zero risk for San Francisco.  The Texans are basically doing the same thing with Graham and didn’t even have to use a draft pick.  They were considering drafting University of Miami running back Mike James in the 6th round, but he was selected six picks before the Texans’ selection.  Houston went on to draft Alan Bonner, mainly for his return ability.  That’s another thing that Ray Graham can bring to the table.  He was a kick returner during his freshman and sophomore years at Pitt.


The Texans hope that Ray can get back some of the speed, explosion, power and spin ability that made him such a dynamic collegiate running back.  If he does regain those attributes to go along with his vision, lateral movements and hands, then the NFL will start to build the legend of Gary Kubiak’s ability to find hidden running back talent late, much in the same manner of his mentor, Mike Shanahan.


My Opinion:  Ray Graham has fallen into the perfect situation for himself.  He goes to a zone team that fits his current strength and one that won’t give up on him early.  His spin move was deadly and I’d like to see it come back, but in 2012 he didn’t trust the repaired knee yet.  He has more value now than he would have had 10 years ago due to the successes of Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson coming off similar injuries.  Arian Foster is coming off a season where he received way too many touches.  Ben Tate can’t stay healthy.  Houston is looking for one of these rookies to contribute, but probably have long term plans for a couple and maybe even all of them.  Houston has “magically” found a way to keep several talented younger players around at positions of needs in the past.  The IR, PUP and practice squads aren’t considered dirty words for this organization.   When you have a running back that I stop just short of comparing his jump cut to Reggie Bush “esque” and he isn’t even 100%, you find a place for him in your organization.


Tale of the Tape on Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson

Ht:                   5’7

Wt:                  196

40  time:         4.48

10 yd split:      1.59

Vertical:          32 1/2”

Broad:             9’10”

20 yd Shuttle:            4.53

3 cone:            7.13

Reps:               21

Career Rush:   2,036 yds

Rush TDs:        13 TDs

Career Rec:     63

Rec Yards:       510 yds

Rec TDs:          4 TDs


Dennis Johnson’s 2011 and 2012 seasons were the exact opposite of Graham’s.  Johnson came off a 2010 injury in 2011.  In 2012, he became the better back.  The reason the Texans like Johnson could be all too telling on their infatuation for Graham.  They don’t have to look into a crystal ball to see how much of a difference an extra year will make with Ray Graham because they already saw it in the Arkansas film on Johnson, but it’s not just the running back position that intrigues the Texans on Dennis.


Johnson is 9th on the all-time list for career all purpose yards in the SEC.  As far as the eight guys ahead of him on that list, a few might stick out, Darren McFadden, Hershel Walker and former Texan, Domanick Davis (Williams).  Johnson has 2,784 kickoff return yards and has had a return of 90+ yards in three different seasons in the SEC.


In his first year coming back from injury, Johnson’s feet were choppier during his change of direction.  While he’ll never plant and cut as exceptionally as Graham, he did show impressive lower body manipulation in 2012.  He was more decisive and took the wasted movement out of his game after he had a couple of years to get back to form.


Johnson can run between the tackles with power and has the speed to go wide outside of the tackles.  In the first year back from the injury, he relied too heavily on initial burst to the hole.  If he didn’t come back healthy in 2012 and become more of an “analyze and cut” back, he wouldn’t have been a solid scheme fit for Houston.  Johnson has an entertaining and unusual running style for backs of his size.  He plays quick and violent which makes him a consistent big play threat.  Dennis runs with lean towards contact which prepares him to embrace impact and contain balance.  Don’t let his 5’7″ frame fool you, he lives for the end of runs.  It’s not because they always end in touchdowns, it’s due to the fact that he’s more the aggressor.  Johnson routinely drops his shoulder into the chest of attackers and has the compact punch to lay them out.


My Opinion:  Dennis Johnson will be the Houston Texans’ 2013 kick returner.  He can immediately contribute to the running and receiving game.  If Ben Tate or Arian Foster goes down, Houston wouldn’t have a problem running through the remainder of the season with Johnson getting 10+ touches a game.  Johnson is a great fit as a 3rd down back as he possesses the ability and understanding of blitz pickup.  He’s comfortable with his hands, can make players miss in opening space and always keeps his legs churning for extra yardage.  In 2012, he regained his lower body strength which allowed him to move piles.

Tale of the tape on Cierre Wood

Cierre Wood

Cierre Wood

Ht:                  5’11

Wt:                  213

40  time:         4.52

Vertical:          37.5”

Broad:             10’4”

20 yd Shuttle:            4.25

3 cone:            6.81

Reps:               18

Career Rush:   2,447 yds

Rush TDs:        16 TDs

Career Rec:     52

Rec Yards:       384 yds

Rec TDs:          2 TDs


When you initially watch Cierre Wood, it’s easy to see why the kid went undrafted.  That sounds like a shot at him but it’s actually not.  Most zone runners aren’t pleasing to the eyes.  It’s why Terrell Davis, Alfred Morris, Arian Foster and others go late or undrafted.  They aren’t the risk and reward type of runners, and the jump off the film, 4.2 type runners.


Wood isn’t going to be the fastest running back. He has an elongated jump step, nothing is flashy in his game, and that suits Kubiak and the Texans to a T.  Wood’s strengths are more boring things like patience, scheme concepts and discipline.


Wood sees the blueprint of his protection as soon as the ball is snapped.  He stays disciplined to the fundamentals of the zone blocking scheme.  He’s the most patient of the three runners.  His style of play fits better in the Vonta Leach, Lawrence Vickers and Greg Jones eras than the James Casey led backfield.  Wood meshes perfectly behind a zone line with a fullback plowing over the first brave soul that is willing to peek out from around his offensive linemen.  After watching numerous games of Wood’s, the one word that kept coming up was patience.  Every move that Cierre makes may be without excitement, but it’s filled with purpose.  Wood is incredible at “squeezing the creases” which points to his unique ability of squeezing his 215 pound frame through the smallest of evaporating seams in the defense.  He sees the opening and closing of lanes and weaves through them with relative ease.  He’s always looking for positive gains and never takes the risk at plays for a loss.


My Opinion:  Out of the three undrafted running backs, I believe that Wood is cut in the closest mold to that of Arian Foster. Kubiak should immediately fall in love with his ability to always find a positive gain and his instant professionalism to not put his teammates in a bad down and distance situation.  He probably won’t be the team’s first option as a third down back.  Dennis Johnson seems a better fit on third down or they can stick with Foster or Tate.


Summary: My comments may come off as a little too rosy when discussing these three undrafted players.  I may be accused of being a homer but I’m actually not a fan of any NFL team and I cover the whole NFL with zero rooting interest.  The Texans are finally a destination city for top of the line free agents, drafted or undrafted.  Houston is reaping the benefits of being a legitimate contender.  Most NFL teams would be ecstatic to get a haul that included one of these three backs so to get all three is simply remarkable.

It’s my belief that Ray Graham is in the team’s long term plans at running back.  It wouldn’t be in the team’s long term interest for him to play early, in my opinion.  Dennis Johnson should be the week one starting kick returner, see time as a 3rd down back and be the team’s big play threat out the backfield.  Cierre Wood is the most similar to Arian Foster out of the three.  His value skyrockets if Foster gets injured.  Keep in mind that I’m not saying that he is Foster, just that his running style and mentality in the offense runs parallel to that of Arian.  He’ll be a favorite of the coaches as they believe in their offensive line and newly acquired fullback.  They want a running back that doesn’t want to be the show but rather a part of the show.  They will not care that he’s not a big play threat (20+ yards).  They know and he knows that he’ll get his production by taking the 3-6 yard gains consistently and trusting his linemen to provide him with the lanes to get 3 to 4 plays a game in which he gets his 10+ yard carries.

One Response to “Tale of the Tape: Texans RB UDFAs”
  1. Sweech says:

    Didn’t the Texans also sign George Winn? The Cincinnati RB. Any info on him?

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