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Player Spotlight: RB Domanick Davis, Houston Texans

Jason Wood's Thoughts

It can be tempting to look at a subset of any player's season and use that to project what "might have been." The problem comes with objectivity. Too often people will highlight a random segment of a season to support their positive (or negative as the case may be) view on a given player. But while we have to be mindful of a player's performance in totality, I do find dissecting a season can be helpful in certain circumstances.

With that in mind, Domanick Davis wasn't given the starting job with the Texans until Week 7 last season. In the final 10 games, as a starter, Davis compiled:

  • 203 carries
  • 860 yards rushing
  • 4.2 YPC
  • 217 receiving yards
  • 8 touchdowns
  • 6 games with 100+ yards from scrimmage
  • Six games with at least 20 carries

Any way you slice it, Davis was impressive as a starter last season. Looking ahead to this year, I think he's very well positioned to improve upon those numbers for the following reasons:

  1. Houston ranked 31st in time of possession - Last season, only the Falcons fared worse in time of possession than the 2nd year Texans. The Texans, which had one of the league's worst defenses (31st in yards allowed, 28th in points allowed) were unable to keep the opposing team off the field AND the offense, hamstrung by an injured David Carr and a still developing receiving corps, were unable to sustain drives. While I'm not sure the team is ready to leap into the league's upper echelon, there have been enough improvements on both sides of the ball to project modest improvement; and increased time of possession SHOULD lead to more carries and a larger reliance on the ground game.


  2. Improvements to the offensive line - The Texans added Todd Wade to play right tackle this season, and Chester Pitts (last season's starter at LT) is expected to move inside to allow Seth Wand to man the other tackle spot. With Pitts and Zach Wiegert playing inside, the team will have four players who have played tackle in the NFL on the line.


  3. Implementation of a new zone-blocking scheme - Houston is abandoning the man-on-man blocking scheme used last year in favor of a zone-blocking scheme; most effectively utilized by Baltimore and Denver (but also used by about half of the league). The switch is only possible because of the team's increased athleticism along the interior of the line; and if implemented effectively, should create better running seams for Davis. Davis' running style (his patience, quick initial burst, and ability to cutback) played no small part in the coaches' decision to alter the blocking schemes to better take advantage of his abilities.


  4. David Carr is healthy - David Carr's return bodes well for the entire offense. The team was forced to use a very basic (and ineffective) passing attack in his absence. His presence should not only impact Davis directly (i.e., more looks out of the backfield as a receiver), it should also help keep opposing defenses from stacking 8 men in the box as Carr proves himself capable of beating teams with his arm.

But what about competition for carries; don't the Texans like Tony Hollings? The Texans used a 2nd round pick in the supplemental draft to select Tony Hollings, and certainly GM Charlie Casserly didn't use that pick in vain. However, when they selected Hollings, Domanick Davis was an unproven commodity in competition with J. Wells and S. Mack for playing time. But the way Davis played last season, and what limited ability Hollings showed when given the shot, it would be difficult to envision Hollings beating him out in camp. Remember that Davis differentiated himself last year from the RB cadre:

  • Jonathan Wells - 2.8 YPC
  • Stacey Mack - 2.7 YPC
  • Tony Hollings - 2.7 YPC
  • Domanick Davis - 4.3 YPC

Positives

  • Davis was ultra productive for a team that has nowhere to go but up in terms of offensive output and line play


  • He proved a multidimensional player who makes plays in the passing game as well as running the ball


  • The Texans are implementing a new zone blocking scheme to better take advantage of Davis' cutback abilities and quick initial burst

Negatives

  • The new blocking scheme and offensive line shuffling (Wade signing, Pitts to guard, Wand to tackle) may take some time to work itself out; the first few weeks could be disappointing


  • The Texans must improve on both sides of the ball for Davis' upside to be realized


  • Davis' durability remains a mystery, he hasn't stayed healthy as the feature back for a full season yet and suffered a litany of injuries in college

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, it's quite clear Domanick Davis is the best back on a young, up-and-coming team. He is multifaceted, a critical component to becoming an elite fantasy running back, and showed proficiency for scoring on a team that was otherwise inept offensively. This year, the team is implementing a new blocking scheme to accentuate Davis' skills as a cutback runner. Combine that with the likelihood of improved time of possession driven by a better defense and more productive passing game, I see no reason why Davis shouldn't be considered an excellent RB2 with very real potential to finish this season among the top 10 fantasy backs. If you can land Davis in the early second round to pair with another top RB, your team should be quite competitive out of the gates.


David Yudkin's Thoughts

In one of my dynasty leagues last year, I had the last pick in our rookie draft. I had to choose between Domanick Davis and Tony Hollings and took Hollings.

As it turns out, the Texans had the same choice to make, and it appears that they have chosen Davis. Last year, "Double D" was a gift from the waiver wire gods, as the planets aligned in such a way that Davis somehow leapfrogged Stacey Mack, Jonathan Wells, Hollings, and James Allen (who decided to retire right before the season started) and wound up as the Texans #1 RB by Week 7.

Davis excelled when he got his chance. From that point on, he posted 4 games with 100+ yards rushing (and another with 99) and scored 8 TD in just 10 games. Projecting those 10 games across an entire season would have given Davis 1,376 rushing yards, 347 receiving yards (he was used more of a receiving back early on), and 13 TD (which would have been good for 250 fantasy points and a #8 RB ranking).

Now before we all go out and go nuts over Davis, nay sayers will point to the mediocre run defenses he compiled big numbers against. His 5 biggest games were against the Bengals, Jets, Falcons, and Colts, and every one of those teams was ranked in the bottom third in rushing defense (several were bottom 5).

His worst games (although not horrendously bad) came against the Patriots, Titans, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Bills--all Top 10 teams against the run. Somehow, I don't think that that's a coincidence, but then again that's not unexpected either. Davis cannot be held responsible for the schedule, but he clearly performed better against softer run defenses.

Positives

  • Put up solid numbers in his rookie year, especially considering he only started 10 games and still ranked as the #14 RB in 2003


  • Davis emerged as a dual running and receiving threat as he had 47 receptions last year
  • The Houston offense should continue to improve. Davis did well in a scheme that was bottom 10 in rushing and bottom 5 in passing-one can only imagine what he could do in a productive offense

Negatives

  • The Texans saw enough in Tony Hollings to invest a second round pick to get him. A healthy Hollings may get a shot to win the starter's job or at the very least take touches away from Davis


  • Davis is not the prototypical sized back (if there is one) and is only 5'9". Then again, so is Priest Holmes, and he seems to have done all right for himself


  • Davis might not be able to sustain his performance level if the Texans offense remains well below average

Final Thoughts

If you want to see how good Davis will be on your fantasy squad this year, he will come with a hefty price tag on draft day. I don't envision a scenario where Davis will fall out of the second round, and he may actually sneak in as a late first round selection in some leagues.

Some people will not be convinced that a 10-game stretch is proof of anything. They will point to William Green as "Exhibit A." There have been other examples of RBs over the years that had a hot stretch for a brief period but overall their careers did not meet with the same success.

From what I have seen, the Texans still seem high on Hollings, and that may pose a serious problem for Davis. With opening day still months away, it will be very difficult to read the tea leaves as to what the Texans are planning for these two. The Texans offense still is not great and does not score a lot of points (ranked 28th in scoring last year), potentially limiting Davis' scoring opportunities.

I will project conservative numbers for Davis with the caveat that his ceiling is higher if he gets more work, stays healthy, and keeps Hollings on the bench.


Quotations from the Message Board Thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

dcgangstas:
"Dom Davis has excellent balance and vision; has a low center of gravity and runs tough between the tackles. He doesn't have breakaway speed per se, but he can bounce it to the outside for solid gains. Davis is proving to be a good receiver out of the backfield as well, and is a good safety valve for David Carr. As the young Texan offensive line continues to become more cohesive, Davis will step his game up even more."

H.K.:
"Capers is a conservative coach and he'll try to establish the run against teams that will be prepared to stop it. One defense that will be ready for Davis this year will be the Colts. Davis scored four of his eight rushing TDs against them last season and accounted for over 30% of his fantasy production as a starter vs. Indy. I think Davis will struggle this year and suffer through some physical and statistical disappointment in his sophomore campaign."

beef:
"Broken hand, back problems, groin injury, chest sprain, ankle injury, and a bruised quadriceps muscle. Tony Hollings doesn't scare me as much as these injuries that kept Davis out or limited his time do. In 46 college games, he only started 13 and was never the featured back. 11 of those 13 starts came in his senior year, but LaBrandon Toefield was the primary ball carrier."

rabidfireweasel:
"Davis is the third down back as well; he has the best hands, goes to the right places and is the best at pass projection. I think that Capers will spell him a bit more than last year when Hollings was green/not practicing hard enough (he was made inactive one week for this reason according to Casserly on talk radio). I thin Hollings gets every fourth or fifth series and if there happens to be any serious garbage time. I also hesitate to project any Texan with over 10 TDs."

Just Win Baby:
"There are a number of the players above who also did not claim the feature back role until partway through their breakout season and maintained essentially the same role & situation in their next season: Dillon, Lewis (one season removed to avoid the injury), Green, Alexander, and Portis. Again, this is a group of very talented backs, likely more talented than Davis. It seemed similarly promising to scale up the statistics of each of these guys, just as you have done for Davis.

But here's the rub: They averaged a gain of only 4% in the season following their breakout season, and that is from their straight numbers, not from scaled up numbers."


Domanick Davis Projections

Source
Rush
Yards
TDs
Rec
Yards
TDs
FntPts
Jason Wood
300
1230
8
50
365
3
226
David Yudkin
275
1150
6
50
350
2
198
Message Board Consensus
295
1237
9
54
414
2
231
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