As a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, not many of us had high fantasy expectations for former Florida RB Dameon Pierce. After all, he was a fourth-round pick. But as the season drew closer, Pierce’s stock began to rise because, well, what competition did he have?
And isn’t that what we want from our rookies – opportunity with minimal competition? Pierce was in for a productive season just on opportunity alone. But one thing weighed on his profile – draft capital.
See, when NFL teams don’t prioritize a player, it makes it more difficult for us fantasy managers to do the same. We’re pessimistic like that. But then the player goes out and performs above expectation, so we’re forced to care—a little. But we’re so set on our prior takes that we poke holes in their game to talk ourselves off a player. And then we look like dumbasses when they go out and do it again.
Many of us firmly believed Pierce was at risk of getting some added competition via the 2023 NFL Draft. The Texans were strapped with a plethora of draft picks. Plus, this RB class was deep in talent. The same thing happened to Michael Carter with the Jets heading into the 2022 draft. No one expected the team to draft Breece Hall because of how well Carter performed. Well, they did, and Carter became a blip on the radar. So surely Houston would add a back, and Pierce’s stock would plummet… right?
But Houston didn’t draft an RB. They did, however, sign former Bills RB Devin Singletary, who had some productive years in Buffalo, culminating in a 2022 campaign that saw him produce the highest total yards (1,099 yards) and yards per touch (5.1) of his career.
So as we prepare for 2023, what are the expectations for Pierce after suffering a season-ending ankle injury, which limited him to 13 games in 2022?
Dameon Pierce 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
Pierce showed legitimate workhorse potential during his rookie campaign. He averaged 19.2 touches per game, including three targets per game. He had five games with 20 or more rush attempts, three games with five or more targets, and a four-game stretch where he totaled 20 targets. Those are all things we love to see as fantasy managers.
Behind a bottom-five offensive line, Pierce managed 4.3 yards per carry. However, he only scored four touchdowns, adding another one as a receiver. According to PFF, he finished fourth in the NFL in missed tackles forced and generated 76.9% of his rushing yards after first contact. And to add even more positives to his solid rookie season, he had 22 of his runs go for 10 or more yards. That was tied for 15th-most in the league.
Imagine Pierce in a better scheme with a better offensive line…
The 2022 Texans offense ranked 25th in passing yards and 31st in total yards, total points, and rushing yards. However, it’s difficult to see this offense getting any worse, and the new coaching staff will certainly have their hands full.
New head coach DeMeco Ryans is a former defensive coordinator. The one thing we know about defensive coordinators is that they love to run the football. Ryans’ choice for offensive coordinator is Bobby Slowik. He’s the former pass game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. So if you’re connecting the dots, expect an offense that runs some similar concepts to recent 49ers offenses.
With a rookie QB likely starting in Week 1, the best way to support him is to play good defense and control the clock. And that begins with a solid running game. The 49ers, over the last four seasons, have averaged 29.65, 29.35, 27.31, and 31.13 rush attempts per game.
In an effort to help bolster their offensive line, they extended stud LT Laremy Tunsil and traded for former Pro Bowl guard Shaq Mason (and recently extended him with a three-year contract). They’re joined by former first-round picks RT Tytus Howard and G Kenyon Green and this year’s second-round pick, C Juice Scruggs. The big boys up front should have no issue creating holes for Pierce.
As it stands, Dameon Pierce is the clear RB1 on the Texans heading into 2023. However, as previously mentioned, the team did bring in Devin Singletary from Buffalo. Unfortunately, nothing Singletary did in Buffalo was overly impressive because if it were, the Bills would likely re-sign him. He was productive, though, so he’s worth mentioning.
Beyond Pierce and Singletary, the Texans brought in former Vikings and Broncos RB Mike Boone and returned Dare Ogunbowale (whose only real skill is on special teams and the occasional passing down).
If you’re looking at this RB room and thinking Pierce isn’t the clear number one option, I have some waterfront property in the Sahara I’d like to sell you.
The Price for Pierce
How much a player costs on draft day is an easy way to sway one’s decision on whether a player is a worthy investment. As of this writing, Pierce’s ADP is RB20. If you believe his upside as a pass catcher is limited, this is a fair price. But he’s being drafted behind two rookies (Bijan Robinson – RB2; Jahmyr Gibbs – RB14), an RB coming back from a torn ACL (Breece Hall – RB11), and two RBs who will see increased competition from rookies with Day 2 draft capital (Travis Etienne – RB12; Kenneth Walker – RB17).
Are people really that threatened by Devin Singletary, who only signed a one-year deal for $2.5 million? A contract like that could see Singletary cut during the preseason if Pierce takes command of the room or another back of their preference suddenly becomes available.
Pierce finished as the RB20 in fantasy points per game a year ago, ahead of guys like Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, and Miles Sanders – three RBs he’s currently being drafted behind. At the very least, we should expect his TD production to increase from last year. The Texans scored only seven rushing touchdowns as a team in 2022. Yikes.
Are you convinced Pierce is a value on draft day yet?
Projecting this offense certainly isn’t easy. We never know how a rookie QB will develop or how consistent a first-time play caller will be. We certainly can’t expect the Texans to be as efficient and capable as the 49ers, from which their offense derives.
But one thing Kyle Shanahan has shown over the years, and something we can cautiously assume about Slowik, is that when he has a running back who can handle a full load, he’ll lean on them. Take last year, for instance. After acquiring Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers, CMC averaged 19.2 touches per game. (Take away his first game, which was played only three days after they acquired him, that number jumps to 20.1 touches per game.)
The year before, in 2021, Shanahan relied on rookie Elijah Mitchell to the tune of 20.5 touches per game. And there are examples of stretches in 2019 and 2020 with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson where Shanahan rode them toward their next injury. But here’s one thing Pierce has that guys like CMC, Mitchell, Mostert, and Wilson don’t have:
Not one of those San Francisco running backs top 205 pounds. Pierce sits at 218 pounds. And we’ve seen all of them break down in seasons over their career. If you want to point to Pierce’s own injury from 2022, I’d caution you to look at when the injury occurred. Pierce played in 13 games, and the Texans had one win. It’s easy to assume he was shut down as a precaution.
My early projections have Pierce handling 241 carries and 43 targets, which lead to 202.6 fantasy points. That would’ve placed him around RB18 last year. And that’s with giving Singletary the majority of the receiving work (49 targets to Pierce’s 43) and 136 carries. As the offseason shakes out, these numbers can easily shift further in Pierce’s favor.
Another factor that works in Pierce’s favor is the lack of standout receiving talent on the team. After the trade of Brandin Cooks to the Cowboys, there is no bonafide WR1 option for new QB C.J. Stroud. Nico Collins is entering Year 3 but has dealt with injuries and hasn’t proven he can be the guy. John Metchie is essentially entering his rookie season after missing last year due to a cancer diagnosis, and the team spent a 3rd round pick on Houston WR Tank Dell, who isn’t even 170 pounds. Currently, their number one option is former Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz, who only signed a one-year contract.
All of those factors contribute to my projections as merely Pierce’s floor. And if that’s still higher than his current ADP, sign me the hell up!
Draft This Man!
With a defensive-minded head coach and an offensive coordinator fresh out of the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, expect Pierce to get plenty of work. Will Devin Singletary work into the equation? Sure. But his usage won’t be so much that it’ll knock Pierce down the pecking order.
And until the Texans figure out who their top pass-catching option is, expect the short-area passing game to be heavily featured. Those types of game plans can (and will) benefit the running backs.
Wheels up for Dameon Pierce in 2023!
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A Look Inside the Houston Texans
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Josh focused on Dameon Pierce in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Texans by Ryan Weisse.
A bad team in transition and a severe lack of weapons should make for a rough rookie year for Stroud. In single-QB leagues, you’re better off avoiding him in your drafts.
If their time in San Francisco is any indication, this new coaching staff will use multiple RBs. Pierce should be the RB1, but Singletary proved he could be a fantasy asset last season in Buffalo. It remains to be seen if Houston can be as effective a run-blocking team as San Fran on Buffalo, but if you can land Singletary cheap, he could have some value.
There is no delicate way to put this: Bobby Trees was BAD last year. Playing in all 17 games, he still finished as the WR57. Yes, the Titans and Ryan Tannehill were a big part of the problem, but there is no guarantee the Texans are better, at least not in Year 1. So Woods has WR3 upside but WR6 downside.
A preseason cancer diagnosis cut his rookie year short, but Metchie seems on track to return this year. With the addition of Tank Dell, he now has competition in the slot role, but the world will be rooting for Metchie. You’re probably not drafting him, but if he wins the starting job, he could be a fun waiver wire add later in the year.
The allure around the diminutive Dell is elite college stats and the fact that CJ Stroud personally wanted him drafted. At 5’10”, he’s not quite Tutu Atwell or Wan’Dale Robinson, but his 165 lbs frame is still a concern. It might take a year for him to adapt to the NFL, but he does have TD upside based on his college production. Unfortunately, he’s still not worth much more in redraft than your last pick as a lottery ticket.
Schultz was productive the last two years in Dallas but enters a very different offense in Houston. While the overall volume should be down, and the touchdowns, Schultz could actually be the focal point of this offense. He was the TE10 last year on just 90 targets, and there is no good reason he can’t duplicate that production. He’s lost some of the upside he had in Dallas, but he is a solid late-round pick if you don’t want to pay up for TE.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.