How will the Texans backfield split out?

·8 min read

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Press conferences: They're either the most important thing in the world or something to be entirely ignored, depending on if they validate how you already felt or not. Nonetheless, they are an important window into an NFL organization. Much as the eye in the sky don't lie about players, coaches can't cover up every emotion or lean they have when they're asked questions. In omission, or in tone, even someone as tight-lipped as Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio can give something away.

Last week we had the following: Kenyan Drake to lead the Ravens backfield in carries (check!), Chris Godwin to likely not play (anti-check, though he got hurt, so maybe he shouldn't have played!), George Kittle true questionable (ruled out on Saturday night -- note to self: believe Aaron Wilson), and Michael Gallup (still trending in the right direction for Week 3).

Now let's dig into the most important situations of the week -- we'll mainly be looking for fantasy-relevant players and their injuries or, in some cases, playing time. Let's look at some of the trickiest situations for Week 2 lineups.

Flex Burkhead versus The Rookie

Dameon Pierce only got 28% of the snap share in Week 1, but I think that number is a little misleading as far as where things are going in the Houston backfield. Lovie Smith talked early and often this week about Pierce, and, in what I think is probably the biggest sign that the Texans will use Pierce more than this going forward, did so unprompted in his first presser of the week.

He called it a mistake that Pierce didn't see as much time as the starter tag might have forecasted. Smith also talked about Pierce multiple times this week. I think it's a telling sign of how much the Texans trust Pierce that it was him, not Rex Burkhead, carrying the ball in the fourth quarter before the two-minute drill situation at the end of the half.

This doesn't mean that Burkhead is about to turn into dust either; I think this situation will eventually split out as a true committee. If there's one thing we know about fantasy football that holds true for just about every rookie, it's that they see more playing time in the second half of the season. Eventually, I think this will be Pierce's backfield and Burkhead will take third-down snaps and two-minute drill situations. But in the meantime, I do think Pierce's snap share will creep up a little more this week, and would forecast something more like 60/40 in favor of Burkhead than 70/30. Burkhead is the better play this week because of how big of a dog the Texans are and how likely it is that they'll be in passing-down situations. Pierce is still someone I'd be buying for the second half of the season, particularly if you see anyone disillusioned about his role right now. Both the coachspeak and the actions say that he will lead this backfield soon.

Jeff Wilson by Committee?

As one of Rotoworld's Oft-Blurbers this offseason, I have tried as hard as I could on Jeff Wilson's profile to let you guys know that he's an available main backup to Elijah Mitchell. People like to pretend that this Kyle Shanahan running back stuff is mysticism or some deep and foreboding secret, but the drumbeat on Trey Sermon wasn't all that surprising if you kept listening to it. He wasn't the kind of runner they liked, and Mitchell was, so Sermon was inactive a lot of the season. When Mitchell was hurt last year in November and December, Sermon was theoretically available to play. He didn't. Wilson did because they liked him. And they liked Wilson enough to give him four different games of 13 or more carries down the stretch in 2022. Sermon got some early time when Mitchell and Wilson were both hurt and not playing, but that was the gist of it. Sermon was a third-round pick who people pre-developed opinions on -- and I'm not disagreeing with them or saying that Sermon will have no NFL success because I still think that's in play -- but they assumed that the draft stock mattered to Shanahan and it didn't.

So I think this situation is a little more simple than some believe. But here's the timeline:
- After the game, Kyle Shanahan was asked about Jordan Mason coming in and said he would have been next in line, but mentioned that Wilson didn't really play much and wasn't tired. Mason was active over Tyrion Davis-Price because he played special teams and the third back needed to be involved in that.
- It'll be a "competition" to see who is the No. 2 back, but then Shanahan dropped the "hot hand" term and I think that was taken out of context a little bit. Here's the clip:

What I took away from that is not that the game will see the hot hand at all. The context of the question was solely about Davis-Price and Mason. "We'll get a feel for them and ... go with the hot hand in the game," seems to be referring more to the practices than the games themselves. Meanwhile, Shanahan also said that Jeff Wilson was: "a very reliable guy ... when Jeff's healthy and able to stay fresh ... he's one of the guys we trust as much as anyone around here."

Shanahan commented on Marlon Mack and said the team was mostly interested in him from their college evaluation of him. Shanahan didn't field a question about the backup RB situation on Friday, which leaves us kind of grasping for straws, but most of the buzz has been about Mason being ahead of Davis-Price at this point. Matt Barrows believed he would be the No. 2 back for now while Davis-Price might take over the role later. Adam Schefter pumped up Mason in a fantasy segment with Field Yates.

But I think this is pretty cut-and-dry for the moment. Wilson is your No. 1 back for the 49ers and should get good volume. Mason and Davis-Price move into the Wilson stash role, and I think you can debate that it might be better to grab Davis-Price if you're seeking future value rather than Mason. Mason feels like who they'll turn to in a Wilson injury situation today. That might not be the case in four weeks.

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Everyone is hurt or old in Tampa Bay's receiving room

Last week the Buccaneers had a Chris Godwin problem. This week it's the rest of the receiving corps. Mike Evans (calf) struggled and missed practice on Thursday after leaving the game against the Cowboys near the end of the second quarter. Julio Jones (knee) didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday before coming back. Then there's the case of Russell Gage (hamstring), who barely was targeted at all against the Cowboys and continues to get only limited work in practice. Even backup plan Breshad Perriman spent time on the report this week.

When he was asked about injury concerns on Wednesday, Bowles downplayed them and said he had a plan in mind for Evans. Evans also spoke to the media at his locker this week. If any of those three main receivers are to be a lock to play, I think it's Evans. However, in fantasy you have to weigh that against his recent history of getting blanketed by Marshon Lattimore. Evans has just 48.7 yards per game against the Saints in 15 career appearances, and last year he had 1/14/0 and 2/48/1 lines against New Orleans. He's too good to be down this long, right? But ... he also hasn't really bucked the trend. Jones and Gage didn't talk to the media at all as far as we know -- Jones is quoted in a USA Today piece with Jarrett Bell after the game, but that's it -- I think if he actually plays he's the safest receiver on the field for Tampa this week. The Bucs often let Rob Gronkowski skip days and Jones is absolutely at the age where more rest could be good for him.

As for Gage, well, it's a little disconcerting how involved he was in Tampa's offense in Week 1. He definitely has more of an inside path to targets than last week, and I must admit that he could be an interesting flyer. But given how long this hamstring injury has nagged him -- this has been a thing since training camp -- I would fade him until we see it happen. My colleague Nick Mensio has given the full fade to Tom Brady this week. I can't go that far, but I can definitely understand where it's coming from.