With recent news out of the Houston Texans’ training camp that Andre Brown has been released, the mad scramble begins to secure the newest primary backup to oft-injured Arian Foster. Though history has shown this role has been fantasy relevant (Ben Tate, Justin Forsett, Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton have all had success behind Houston’s all-time leading running back), it has become unclear who will fill the vacancy in 2014. Signs currently point toward Jonathan Grimes, a 24-year old running back who returned for his third stint with the Texans in December following stops with the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of William & Mary in 2012, the 5’11”, 209 pound back remains the school’s record holder for total rushing yards (4,541), total all-purpose yards (7,967), and single season all-purpose yards (2,510). He also led the nation in all-purpose yards in his senior season, nearly 1,700 of which came out of the backfield. Though he was not selected in the NFL Draft, Grimes was a priority free agent as he was given offers by ten teams following the draft.
Grimes possesses solid speed and quickness for his size and displays his versatility as an all-around contributor both as a blocker and return specialist on special teams.A four-year starter, Grimes displayed good pass-catching skills (136 receptions for 1,125 receiving yards and seven touchdowns) and was a three-down back for the Tribe while he displayed good vision and blocking skills. He also has the ability gain tough yardage if asked to run between the tackles and if called upon in a pinch can even play quarterback as he completed his only pass attempt in college for a 12-yard touchdown.
One of the primary concerns with Grimes’ game is his inability, despite good speed relative to his size, to turn the corner well in space. He is not agile enough to shift momentum and change direction on a dime, leaving him vulnerable to loss of yards when plays break down in the backfield. Being unable to outrun defenders or shift easily in the open field puts a cap on his playmaking ability.
Still, in his 2012 Pro Day, Grimes was clocked at 4.53 in his 40-yard dash, which would have put him in the top ten and ahead of Doug Martin at the Combine, and 10.05” broad jump which would have placed him second overall (behind only David Wilson). Additionally, his 38” vertical jump would have tied with Brandon Bolden for second, again behind only Wilson.
The NFL pendulum has swung wildly for the young running back, fluctuating between sleeper and not worthy of a roster spot several times in three years. Used sparingly in the 2012 preseason after being signed by Houston, after spending the first month of the season on the practice squad he was signed by the Jets. After being active for three games, with only six yards on two carries, Grimes was waived before being resigned by the Texans following a Ben Tate hamstring injury. Two months later, having worked only on special teams, he was waived again and signed by Jacksonville in December. Spending the following eight months in the Jaguars’ organization, Grimes was subsequently released and unemployed for the majority of the season.
Another Ben Tate injury prompted Houston to again sign Grimes, this time to see game action. He rushed for 23 yards on five carries in week 16 last season, earning a start in week 17. Handed the ball 16 times, Grimes totaled 50 yards on the ground with a touchdown to go along with six receptions for 76 yards and a respectable fantasy performance for teams still playing their championship game.
Following his week 17 heroics and brief time in the spotlight, Grimes again became a forgotten name after the Texans signed Andre Brown and drafted Alfred Blue in the sixth round this off-season. Many, including myself, expected Brown to be the de facto number two if he could just stay healthy.
However, with Foster sidelined, the reps have told a much different story. In the preseason opener against Arizona, Brown didn’t receive a single touch as Grimes, Blue and Dennis Johnson combined for 67 yards on 16 carries. Of the trio, Grimes received carries first and was followed by Blue. Shortly thereafter, head coach Bill O’Brien chose to let Grimes and Blue battle for the number two spot and let the former Giant go. O’Brien stated Grimes is ahead of Blue due to his experience, but Blue is a player worth monitoring as well.
Given the release of Brown, Johnson and Tim Cornett on Monday, both Grimes and Blue should be locks for the 53-man roster. Newly signed Ronnie Brown, the longtime Dolphin and most recently a Charger, and William Powell are likely just fresh camp bodies. With three preseason games remaining, however, there is still plenty of time for the depth chart to evolve and roster moves to be made. After the workload told the story in week one, keep a close eye on how things shake out Saturday against an Atlanta Falcons defense that held Miami to 52 yards rushing last week.
While Grimes’ arrow is pointing up, don’t bother looking at ADP because he isn’t there. If he hasn’t been picked up off waivers since Monday’s news, he is probably still available unless you are in a deep league and someone stashed him late in 2013. Arian Foster and Andre Brown owners will want to acquire Grimes and he has good upside for a player at the end of anyone’s bench solely for the opportunity he appears to have in his grasp, but he needs to be more than the second name on a preseason draft chart to merit an investment larger than a waiver wire pickup. While not overly impressive in any one area, Grimes has a diverse skill set and can contribute if called upon. If he’s backing up Foster, you can bet he will be.