2018 Summer Sleeper: Houston Texans

Noah Ballweg

In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.

To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:

Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.

Because we aren’t going to give you the likes of mainstream sleepers, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Adam Thielen is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.

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Terry Swanson, RB

Category: Super Deep Sleeper

Let me share a stat line with you. In his senior season at Toledo, Kareem Hunt rushed for 1,475 yards and ten touchdowns, averaging 9.8 yards per reception. We all know what he went on to do his rookie season in the NFL.

Then the Terry Swanson era began. To say he had big shoes to fill would probably be the world’s biggest understatement. With Hunt tearing it up in the NFL, who would be the next man up at Toledo? The understudy to Hunt exploded in the 2017 collegiate season, rushing for 1,363 yards, 14 touchdowns and averaging 9.7 yards per reception. Sound familiar? Yep. So why haven’t you heard of him yet?

Despite putting up similar numbers to his predecessor, Swanson was snubbed an invite to the NFL Combine in March. As the 22nd-ranked running back in 2017, he was shocked not to have received the invitation, but allowed the doubt to fuel his work ethic even more.

“I feel like I’m a top back,” Swanson stated. “I would’ve finished with a lot of top five numbers.”

Swanson wasn’t wrong. At his Pro Day in March, he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 24 times. These numbers would have ranked him within the top five in both categories. Although he was projected somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds of the draft, Swanson fell undrafted and was quickly signed by Houston.

The Texans are notorious for opening welcoming arms to undrafted free agents looking to make a name for themselves. In 2017 alone, they signed 14 UDFAs, nine of whom went on to start 39 games over the course of the season. I expect Swanson to be one of these players in 2018 who climbs the depth chart and earns favor within the organization when they see his potential.

Entering the 2018 season, the Texans have solid options a the running back position, but a lot of question marks loom over the future of what this backfield will look like. Currently the rostered backs are Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Tyler Ervin, Troymaine Pope, Alfred Blue and Lavon Coleman. There are probably only two or three names in that mix worth paying attention to as the seasons draws near.

Lamar Miller has been the staple in the Houston backfield over the past two seasons. While he has drawn a lot of criticism from experts and fans alike, he has been a very balanced and consistent back in terms of his fantasy output. Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall. Many are voicing for his departure sooner rather than later, but given the injury questions of Foreman, Miller should be the starter come opening day for the Texans.

I would suspect 2018 to be the final season in Houston for Miller, giving way to younger talent beneath him, including Swanson.

Foreman burst onto the scene in Houston during his 2017 rookie campaign. Before rupturing his chilles late in the season, Foreman was challenging Miller for reps and was a fan favorite in the organization. He finished the season with 327 rushing yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on just 78 rushing attempts: A small but favorable sample size going forward.

With just three months remaining before the start of the 2018 NFL season, it remains unclear what kind of contribution (if any) Foreman will be able to provide for the Texans this season. He and the coaching staff remain optimistic that his recovery will be full and ahead of schedule, but there remains a fair amount of speculation whether he will be able to carry a significant workload.

This essentially leaves Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin as the remaining two backs who stand in the way of Terry Swanson. Both Blue and Ervin were rostered with the Texans in 2017, but Blue was truly the only back to make a significant impact on his future with the organization. Blue will be leaned on in 2018 for his balanced approach, but I would not expect any further contributions in future seasons.

Maybe you are catching on to where this is all leading to. Do you see the window of opportunity Swanson has the chance to seize? I do.

If you need more to convince you of his abilities, here is a small sample of Swanson’s highlights this past season.

At 5’10”, 205 pounds, I would assume Swanson will continue to work through the fall to add as much lean muscle as possible without losing the speed he gained this summer. Coaches will want to see him at least near the 215-220 pound mark at the beginning of fall camp. It’s a big jump, but if he is able to do that, I expect him to shine come preseason action.

The Texans will be keeping a close eye on Swanson’s development over the course of the next year. If I were playing it safe, I would expect him to begin to contribute starting in the following 2019 season. He does however, have the potential to jump at least into the third spot on the depth chart by the beginning of this season if he maintains the ball control, (one lost fumble in 2017) and speed that he exhibited in his pro-day.

Swanson is destined to fly under your leagues radar all season. Write his name down, save it and it could pay you dividends in years to come. If you have a roster spot or taxi-squad position open, draft him and keep an eye on his progress. He could be difference maker on your dynasty team for many years to come.