HOUSTON -- David Johnson showed in Week 16 that perhaps the former All-Pro lives somewhere inside his body. Rushing for 128 yards and averaging 10.6 yards per play, Johnson posted his best numbers on the campaign since arriving with the Houston Texans.
That wasn't enough to keep Houston out of the cellar in rushing yards on the season. The Texans finished 31st on the ground, only beating out Pittsburgh for the worst rushing attack in 2020.
Earlier in this offseason, Houston seemed content with a three-man rotation in Johnson, Mark Ingram, and Phillip Lindsay. The two later joined the squad via free agency, both hoping to show they still can last as primary runners in the NFL.
The trio might be the favorites, but Rex Burkhead now has been added to the mix. The former Patriot agreed to a one-year deal following three seasons in New England with Texans GM Nick Caserio.
"We all know what he’s been in this league and we had an opportunity to get him to add to the mix and we added him to the mix," Texans coach David Culley said on the signing. "I’m happy to have him here with us and to get right in the mix of what we’re doing with the competition at that position, also.”
How will the running back room work out now? That's a question that might be hard to predict.
Johnson likely will be on the roster as the lead runner for now. After electing to restructure his contract, the Texans now will owe the 29-year-old $4.5 million guaranteed in 2021 — doubling the price from the initial deal.
This is in large part hoping that Johnson can still rebound as the key piece from the infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade. Houston sent an All-Pro pass-catcher to Arizona in return for a second-round pick that would later be Ross Blacklock and Johnson.
Last season, Johnson finished with five games of 70-plus rushing yards. Until otherwise, expect him to be the "starter" on the season.
The real question comes down to the backups. Every contract is cheap, so cutting Lindsay, Ingram or Burkhead comes with little penalty. In retrospect, age might factor into the decision overall.
Lindsay, 26, recorded two 1,000-plus rushing seasons with the Broncos after being undrafted out of Colorado. He could have pushed for as third if injuries and the emergence of Melvin Gordon didn't limit him to 11 games in 2020.
Still, despite missing five games, Lindsay managed to finish with 502 yards on the year, including four 75-plus rushing performances.
Ingram, 31, was a healthy scratch towards the end of his time with Baltimore as the Ravens began to push J.K. Dobbins as the new lead back. Perhaps in Houston, he can bring back the 2019 magic in which he recorded 1,000-plus yards on the season.
The difference? Baltimore's offensive line graded out top-five the past two seasons. Houston's still has question marks left and right.
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Burkhead, 30, has always been the change of pace runner. Primarily used on third down, the former Patriot never finished with more than 302 yards on the campaign.
He's coming off major knee surgery.
Ideally, this will come down to special teams between Lindsay, Ingram and Burkhead. Of the three, Burkhead takes the lead as he played over 1,100 snaps at the position since 2013. Combined, Lindsay and Ingram have 100 special-teams snaps, with the latter not taking one since 2013.
Lindsay's age and upside gives him a pass for now. Depending on how soon Burkhead can return, he could be viewed as the more valuable option. Then again, the Texans have a quality special teams running back already on the roster in Buddy Howell.
For now, Ingram's impact on the locker room puts him ahead. All that said, Burkhead's relationships could keep him around in some capacity outside of running the ball.
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