Which Houston Texans Running Back Is Worth Owning in Fantasy Football?
When Arian Foster got injured before the season started, his fantasy football stock dropped.
When it became clear that he would return by Week 5 instead of towards the end of the year, he became a value pick.
So, the bigger question that remained surrounding the Houston backfield was whether they had a back who could replace him while he was out.
Alfred Blue is firmly entrenched as the direct backup to Foster, which, by default, made him the starter in Foster's absence. While it is no small task to replace a superstar, this role looked unenviable early in the season as the Texans appeared to be the laughingstock in the league.
Only DeAndre Hopkins looked to have any fantasy value as all the Texans could do was pass the ball.
When Foster returned from his initial injury, the Texans showed some improvement, but his return meant handcuffing him became more of a luxury than a necessity.
Unfortunately, Foster -- based on the advanced analytics -- did not look like the superstar we all remembered; then he tore his Achilles. Immediately, the question again emerged: is there a Texans back worth owning?
A big variable in this is that the Texans have turned their season around, and due to being in the pathetic AFC South, they could potentially make the playoffs. With the overall team improvement, it is now fair to roster Texans backs, but should we roster the Texans' starter, Blue, or should we instead roster either of his backups: Chris Polk or Jonathan Grimes?
Feeling Very Blue
While Blue shredded (31 carries 139 yards and a touchdown) the Buccaneers' top-10 run defense based on our metrics, the rest of his season has been a complete disappointment by comparison. Overall, Blue is averaging 3.3 yards per carry on 107 carries, and he only has 1 touchdown.
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, of the 60 backs with at least 41 carries, Blue ranks 59th in Rushing NEP (-16.02). Only Melvin Gordon has a worse Rushing NEP. His efficiency is barely any better, as he ranks 53rd in Rushing NEP per play (-0.15).
Blue's failures in the run game are easy to see. He has the 48th ranked Rushing Success Rate (34.58%), meaning barely more than one third of his carries produce a positive NEP.
Of course, if a running back is going to play and is failing to produce in the ground game, then he must have some great chops in the passing game. Blue has caught 12 of his 13 targets this year, and turned them into 98 yards and a touchdown.
Blue ranks 49th out of 80 backs with at least 10 targets in Reception NEP (6.94), and 15th in Reception NEP per target (0.53), showing that he is possibly an option in the passing game. The Texans though, have limited him to only 13 targets, which shows trepidation on their part to trust him in this area.
Blue is posting the fourth highest Reception Success Rate, as 83.33% of his receptions have counted towards a positive NEP value. While Blue profiles more like a bruiser back, his efficiency metrics make him look like he would be more productive as a scat-back.
Although his receiving efficiency is good, his basic statistics as a receiver are not in line with more prolific receiving backs.
Houston's Other Backups
While Blue has seen the majority of the work, Polk and Grimes have mixed in along the way to show what they can offer.
Polk has carried the ball 52 times, half as many as Blue and twice as many as Grimes (26). With that opportunity, he has the same inefficient yards per carry as Blue (3.3) to go with 1 touchdown.
According to our metrics, Polk does not fare much better than Blue, as he ranks 41st in Rushing NEP (-6.63) and 49th in Rushing NEP per play (-0.13). His Rushing Success Rate is second worst amongst the 60 running. Only 25% of his runs have contributed to his Rushing NEP positively.
Polk, like Blue, is built like an early-down back, so it is staggering to see both failing to carry the ball well, but unlike Blue, he is having no success in the passing game. Of the 80 backs with over 10 targets (Polk has 23), Polk ranks 66th in Reception NEP (2.75) and 70th in Reception NEP per target (0.12).
His metrics come as no surprise: he has a 52.17% Catch Rate (76th) and has turned his 12 receptions into only 78 yards. Polk is not an improvement to Blue as a runner and has been worse as a receiver.
Their other backup Grimes has had the least opportunity of the three. On his 26 carries, he has produced 4.8 yards perry carry (124 yards) but no touchdowns.
His metrics show that he is the best of the three as well. Although he doesn't have 40 carries, he only has a -2.11 Rushing NEP with a -0.08 Rushing NEP per play. Both of these are improvements from Blue and Polk. Additionally, his 38.46% is an improvement over them, even though it is not ideal.
While Grimes is not viewed as an early-down back, he actually does have a profile that fits the mold. Unfortunately, while he profiles as a good receiving back, he has underwhelmed in the passing game even though he has had as much of an opportunity as Polk.
Grimes has turned his 21 targets into 17 receptions and 113 yards as he has yet to find the end zone this year. He ranks 57th in Reception NEP (4.47) -- worse than Blue but better than Polk -- and 60th in Reception NEP per target (0.21) also sitting between both backs.
If anything, at the very least Grimes has earned some early-down work, and Blue should see passing work, but it is fair to wonder if Grimes can improve on his receiving opportunity.
With Foster out and the remaining backs not showing signs of coming close to replacing his production, it is right to hope Foster can come back to his superstar level. But numbers show that we might have witnessed the end of Foster. On the year (63 carries), he only produced 2.6 yards per carry.
Foster's metrics in both Rushing NEP (-15.25) and Rushing NEP per play (-0.24) show him running as poorly as Blue -- if not poorer -- and only his receiving success in both Reception NEP (17.84) and Reception NEP per target (0.64) buoyed his value.
Going forward, our projections list Blue as RB27 in fantasy football, Polk as RB61, and Grimes as RB74. Blue is solely worth an investment based on volume, but based on the metrics, Grimes is the back to own if he gets the opportunity.
While we can hope for Foster to regain his superstar status, it is time for the Texans to see if Grimes can be their feature back past this year or if they need to invest a draft-pick in one instead.