A fantasy football sleeper can only go under the radar for so long, especially with how fantasy football has grown in the past five or so years. And there’s no greater example of this than Houston Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce. After rushing for 86 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries in three preseason games, Pierce’s fantasy stock has climbed the likes of Mount Everest.
Just a few weeks ago Pierce was being drafted as a late-round flier, but with his recent eruption he’s being selected in the middle rounds of drafts. Pierce has a clear path to a consistent workload, but how effective he’ll be with that workload is still a question mark.
A lot of the skepticism surrounding Pierce has to do with the number of carries he handled in college. In Pierce’s four seasons with the Florida Gators, he never surpassed 106 rushing attempts in a season. During his final two seasons at Florida, Pierce averaged 8.24 rushing attempts per game, but also averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
What also has to be taken into account for Pierce’s low workload is that former Gators quarterback, Emory Jones, rushed for 759 yards on 143 attempts last season. Even with the lack of carries, Pierce still managed to rush for 574 yards and piled up 16 touchdowns from scrimmage.
For whatever reason, Pierce wasn’t able to command a full workload in college but he’ll have a chance to this season. To put it bluntly, the Texans running back depth isn’t very inspiring.
Rex Burkhead figures to get the bulk of the pass-catching duties, which puts a cap on Pierce’s ceiling but Pierce figures to dominate the rushing attempts. After Burkhead, the Texans have Dare Ogunbowale and Royce Freeman, but it’s highly unlikely they cut into Pierce’s touches significantly.
Even though Pierce appears to have his name firmly etched as RB1 for the Texans, the offensive line in front of him will need to take a massive step forward. Last season, the Texans offensive line was the 29th worst-graded line according to PFF, and also had the worst run blocking grade at 47.4. Going into this season, PFF has the Texans offensive line ranked 22nd, and if Pierce is going to be a viable fantasy option, their run-blocking will need to see a big improvement.
Besides the potential workload issues and offensive line issues, some people are also skeptical because there isn’t much precedent of a rookie running back that was drafted in the fourth round or later, producing a top-30 fantasy running back season.
The few names that have been able to achieve that mark in the past 10 years consist of Jordan Howard, James Robinson, Elijah Mitchell and Michael Carter. So it’s not impossible that Pierce joins those ranks, it just might not be the likeliest of outcomes.
The most likely outcome for Pierce is that he’s a reliable flex option that could jump into the RB2 conversation, and that’s fine. As most fantasy owners know, it’s much more difficult to find a reliable running back than a wide receiver.
Pierce has league-winning upside because of his presumed role in the Texans offense, however, we shouldn’t assume that he is automatically going to take the fantasy world by storm.