Questions about him are many: Is he too small to carry the load (ala Maurice Jones-Drew)? Will he lose carries to a second back (ala Joseph Addai)? Will he have issues if (maybe when) quarterback Matt Schaub or wide receiver Andre Johnson go down?
Let’s take a look at these very valid concerns and see if they hold up and if so (or if not), what that truly means.
First of all, size. While I have been researching an article on Jones-Drew, I’ve taken a hard look at the sizes and weights of many NFL running backs. Slaton is a tad on the short side, although at 5′-9 I still think that’s not a huge concern.
What might be a concern is his weight. Slaton rolls in as a trim (maybe slight is a better term) 203 pounds. While he isn’t Darren Sproles (5-6, 181lbs!) the thin frame is worrisome.
Even Slaton knew this – that’s why he added about nine pounds of muscle to help with the pounding. That pulls him closer to some of the slightly taller backs (in the 5-10 to 5-11 range) and help him with his short yardage work.
Now, as we’re concerned with size, it would stand to reason the Texans would be as well. But they didn’t bring in a power back to cut into Slaton’s carries at all. In fact, the backs behind him consist of a fragile runner, an underperforming back who runs like Slaton, a pair of rookies and a perennial camp body.
Not really a group striking fear into Slaton’s heart. Of them, most likely to succeed in any way is rookie Arian Foster, who impressed in OTAs and at 6-1, 225 pounds can fulfill the power back role. This might harm Slaton’s overall touchdown total as an awful lot of his TDs were short yardage – four were a yard or less and a fifth was just two yards.
Two thoughts – one, Slaton sure seemed to be ok going short yardage and not only was he effective on the goal line, but he played well getting first downs. Could it be that Houston didn’t acquire a full-on short yardage back because they believe Slaton can do it, with Brown (or now Foster) spelling him?
Alternatively, you have to be concerned that if he does loose his goal-line attempts, his touchdown totals are decimated.
Slaton did have about seven 40+ runs, though, including one over 71 yards which resulted in a touchdown. He can break away from tacklers and if the offense is more consistent, that could offset any loss in the short yardage game.
Still, most of his ten touchdowns were short yardage. So it definitely could be a problem.
Finally, there is the concern that if Johnson or Schaub goes down with an injury, Slaton could face too many defenses selling out to stop him.
Well, with Schaub on the bench injured and Sage Rosenfels striking fear into the hearts of nobody, Slaton performed pretty well for the most part last season.
While the depth behind Schaub is even more shaky this year (Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman – WOO HOO!), I still expect Slaton to play as well as he did last year and with another year under his belt, have the potential to be even better.
Overall, Slaton ran the ball well throughout the 2008 season. He had some good games against good run defenses (Minnesota), some ok run defenses (Jacksonville) and some bad run defenses (Detroit, Green Bay & Indianapolis).
He also had some disappointing games against poor run defenses (Cleveland) and some great run defenses (Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore). That’s to be expected from a rookie. This year he needs a little more consistency before he is considered a true stud.
Overall, I like Slaton quite a bit this year.
I think he will not lose much in the way of carries or targets and has already said he feels like he knows what his coaches want and how to achieve it. I think he has no more or less questions than any back in front or behind him, has no real challengers for carries and I believe the offensive line has continued to improve over time.
His questions are very real, however, and must be considered when drafting him.
If Slaton stays healthy and the offense plays well, he has the opportunity to not only crack the top ten again, but potentially the top five as well.
The risk is; with just one season to look over we don’t know if last year was the rule – or the exception.
And that risk will keep him from the top of a lot of people’s Fantasy Draft boards.