Houston signed running back Dare Ogunbowale as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 NFL Draft.
In 49 career games played at UW, he rushed for 1,518 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Not bad for a player who initially was a defensive back up until the 2014 season.
Many thought the team captain, whose story is the latest in the line of former walk-ons making an immense impact on Wisconsin football, would be drafted.
Now, Ogunbowale has a shot with the Texans to make the roster, but will have to compete with six other running backs. That includes former Texas Longhorns running back and third-round draft pick D’Onta Foreman.
Battle Red Blog’s Battle Red Coat discussed how Ogunbowale could make his presence felt for the AFC South organization.
There are five running backs on the roster before Ogunbowale is officially announced (six if you include LSU's Kenny Hilliard, who's signed to a futures/reserved designation). Who are the projected starters and contributors?
This is actually a really difficult one to answer and was made even more complicated with the addition of D'Onta Foreman to the mix. Lamar Miller will obviously remain as the number one back for the Texans and take the majority of the carries. I think Foreman has been drafted to be the next man up and reduce some of Miller's carries, as well as offering us a different style of running (which I will discuss in a moment).
After that is anyone's guess. Alfred Blue has been around since 2014 and has been adequate in being the backup running back. He had some great games when he was forced to start, namely when Arian Foster was out against the Browns and Blue ran for 153 yards on 36 carries. Aside a couple of surprise performances, Blue has been pretty average. He's not bad at anything, but neither does he excel at anything. Just very average in all facets of the game. Which has been fine enough for a couple of years, but needed an upgrade. He has been a special teams contributor and comes up with some tackles on returns, but he lacks the speed to be a top quality gunner.
Akeem Hunt is electric with the ball in his hands, he's quick, agile and can make a man miss in open space. He was the odd man out at the start of last season, but came back later in the season due to injuries and made a good impact on his limited touches. Hunt is not a guy you want running between the tackles or pass protecting. Limit his role to receiving or pitch/toss plays and Hunt has the skill to turn them in to big yardage.
Tyler Ervin is similar to Hunt in the sense he is best suited to receiving. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2016, and everyone was extremely excited for his rookie season. An electric return man in college, ideal for receiving out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, we had him touted as our "match-up nightmare". Turns out the only nightmare was watching him play for our team. He muffed punts, he fumbled, he dropped passes. Generally, just a massive let down. He'll be on thin ice this training camp.
Kenny Hilliard, the less said the better. We drafted him late in 2015, which had us all puzzled when his name was called. I think the vision was of him being a Brandon Jacobs style, short yardage bruiser. He's participated in two preseasons, and has showed exactly no talent. He was better in 2016 preseason, but still no where near good enough to touch the 53 man roster. Slow and doesn't run over anyone.
I think the 53-man roster will carry Miller, Foreman, Hunt and one other. Miller and Foreman to be the main tandem, Hunt to be the "scat back" and then potentially one other we a different skill set. Ervin could fill that, or even replace Hunt, with ability to line up in the slot. But he's going to have to prove it.
The Texans drafted D'Onta Foreman in the third round and, like Ogunbowale, would be another back challenging for a roster spot. What role would the former Texas Longhorn play in the offense?
Foreman will be the primary backup to Lamar Miller, at least that is how most envisage it. Miller had 318 carries and 35 receptions in the 16 games he played last year, which I think was just a bit too much for him. He wasn't as effective as he was in Miami, but still flashed the talent from time to time. PFF showed that Miller was much better for yards after contact when he carried the ball between 15 and 19 times a game, and I think that's where Foreman's value is. A viable second running back who can carry the ball 5 and 10 times a game and we won't see too much of a drop off in production. He doesn't have the pass blocking skills to be a third down back, so Miller would have to come back in the game for this, but he allows Miller to keep his legs fresh when we're working the clock in the second half. He also runs between the tackles a bit better than Miller does, so we might see him touch the ball more when that style of running is required.
A lot of scouts, analysts have said Ogunbowale is the model third-down back for the NFL. Is that where you see Ogunbowale fitting in Bill O'Brien's offense?
As I alluded to above, D'Onta Foreman lacks the skills in pass protection to be a third down back, and neither does Akeem Hunt. If Ogunbowale is going to fit anywhere on this roster, then third down it is.
Should Miller for any reason be able to be in the game for third down, be that injury or fatigue, then we're going to need a back that can go in and pass protect. Currently, Blue is the man for that role and has done a good job of that, he's fairly reliable in pass protecting situations from what I can remember of last season. Ogunbowale, from what I've seen and you've described, fits that role as well. I don't think he'll have much chance to show any value outside of third down with the crowded roster ahead of him.
Have there been many undrafted free agents (UDFAs) who have made the active roster and had an impact in recent Texans' history?
The best Texans running back of all time, Arian Foster, was an UDFA. That's the best example of I can think of. He's up there with best UDFAs of all time.
Jonathan Grimes is a running back that made the team on the back of being undrafted in 2012. He bounced around a bit before sticking with the Texans, but he was good in his limited role, similar to what I've described Ogunbowale could fill. Grimes was a good pass protector and received a few passes. He's now off the roster after his contract finished at he end of the 2016 season.
A.J. Bouye, who has gone on to earn that massive contract and be a quality CB, is another UDFA. He's been on the 53-man roster every year since 2013 and has been nurtured and developed into the player he is today.
The Texans had (by my count) 17 players that were undrafted on the 53-man roster at the end of the year, plus another one on injured reserved that had contributed earlier in the season. Of those 18, five of them were rookies this year and another four were second-year players. Not all of those nine made the original 53-man roster, with three of them sticking around on the practice squad before being called up to the roster later in the season. Either way, that's a large proportion of the roster made up by undrafted players.
So, yes is the short answer, UDFAs have definitely made an impact in recent history.
It's still way too early to tell, but but based on the current roster and expectations at running back, what would be your thoughts as to the chance of Ogunbowale working his way up to making an impact, and fighting for a roster spot?
I'm sure that Ogunbowale will get his fair chance, but it will be an uphill battle to make the roster. I have said that he has a chance to make it in the fourth running back spot, but that's based on the assumption we even carry four this year. We have in every other year of the Bill O'Brien era, but it is possible he feels we have enough in Miller, Foreman and Hunt/Ervin that it is not necessary.
Ogunbowale's chances rely on the following:
1) Demonstrating the work ethic and character Bill O'Brien looks for
2) Performing on special teams as both a returner and a gunner
3) Outperforming Alfred Blue in camp as a pass protector and receiver
If he can check all three of these boxes, he's in with a chance. From the sounds of it, he has check box one already checked. The other two are probably significantly more difficult.
Can he do it? Of course he can, but I'd put him as the firm outsider at the moment. His best chance might be to stick around on the practice squad and potentially be called up if anyone gets injured.