The Houston Texans have found a quality starting running back in David Johnson, but they may not have found an elusive back.
According to Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus, who compiled a list of NFL starting running backs by their elusiveness, Johnson is 27th on the list of veteran starting running backs, which puts him at the bottom.
Maybe Johnson should be a few spots higher strictly based on how good he was in 2016, but the last three years have been rough. Since 2017, Johnson ranks last among NFL backs on this list in missed tackles forced per touch (0.10) and yards after contact per rushing attempt (2.3). Those numbers were even worse when looking only at 2019. He was finally starting to flash as a receiver again early last season, but injuries once again put a halt to that progress. Is it realistic to think he gets back to the dynamic player that he was in 2016 — four years removed from that season — at this point? Probably not, hence Johnson keeping the last-place spot warm.
Carlos Hyde was proficient at broken tackles with 22 collected in the 2019 campaign. The former Ohio State Buckeye filled in for all 16 games as intended starter, Lamar Miller, was lost for the season with a torn ACL sustained in the third preseason game.
What could help mitigate against Johnson’s allegedly lack of elusiveness is the Texans’ offensive line returning the same five starters from a year ago. With more continuity along the offensive line, the likes of which the Texans have not had in the Deshaun Watson era, Houston could take a step forward in the run game. If Johnson is consistently getting out of the backfield without risk of being hit, then his relative lack of elusiveness should not factor into the running game.
With second-year offensive coordinator Tim Kelly taking the reins as play-caller, the Texans may be looking to utilize Johnson’s pass-catching abilities more than his efforts in the run game.