It’s no secret the Houston Texans admire the ‘Patriot Way.’ There’s little doubt in my mind that when they hired Bill O’Brien, a former New England Patriots assistant of five years, they sought to mirror the model that he learned as part of his former team. Hell, what sane person doesn’t want a team capable of winning four Super Bowls in fifteen seasons?
When owner Bob McNair and Rick Smith hired O’Brien, they picked up a New England man, born and raised. They plucked up a New England coach and stuck him in the blistering South Texas sun with hopes that he would blossom as a coach and build a champion in the mold of his former team.
While it’s unproven whether the Texans will be built into the ‘New England of the South,’ the offensive philosophy already appears to be very much the same. Look no further for proof than O’Brien’s selection of running back Tyler Ervin in the 2016 NFL Draft.
If you look at the Patriots’ excellent teams, a hybrid wide receiver/running back, also known as the “scatback,” can be found across their rosters. Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis all fit this mold; running backs capable of running the football and also catching passes out of the backfield, or in the slot. While these backs lack the stature of every day backs like Adrian Peterson, they find ways to make a difference through their versatility. If you don’t grasp the concept, take a look at some of Shane Vereen’s highlights below for an example.
Because of their catch passing ability and quickness, scatbacks excel in the O’Brien (New England) offense that spreads teams out and finds mismatches in space, particularly against linebackers.
A five-year player from San Jose State, Ervin embodies the scatback role O’Brien has desperately searched to fill in his Houston offense. An incredibly gifted athlete with quick feet and reliable hands, Ervin makes for a tough matchup in open space and has the speed to blow past linebackers in pass coverage. At the NFL Combine, Ervin ran the second fastest 40-yard dash time among receivers at 4.41 seconds, a testament to his open field speed.
As a pass catcher, Ervin comes to the Texans developed and ready to play. While a starter at San Jose State, Ervin caught 73 passes for 642 yards. That’s an impressive body of work for two season at the college level. He comes to the NFL with already refined ability as a route runner, with clear knowledge about where to find open space and how to run with the ball after the catch.
With all the talk about his pass catching, I don’t mean to discredit Ervin’s running back skills because he’s certainly capable in that area, too. His agility and quickness in the backfield make him tough to bring down in open space and certainly has the skills to be an elusive back at the level. In his senior season, Ervin quietly compiled 1,601 rushing yards and thirteen touchdowns in the Mountain West Conference. During his senior season, there was talk that Ervin may have been the most dynamic runner in all of college football. A specific example coming against Auburn where he torched the Tigers for 162 rushing yards.
On top of his ability as a runner and catcher, Ervin can also field kicks. In college, he tallied up 2,374 kick return yards and three touchdowns during his five seasons. Ervin’s undeniably explosive speed provides another element to his game that could help them on the return game, an area where they have seemed to lack explosive athletes. How fast is Ervin in the kick return game? Let his return against Georgia State do the talking.
While Ervin doesn’t have the muscle on his frame to be an every down back in the league, his versatility will allow him to make an impact for this Texans team. As a playmaker who can work all across the field, he knows that’s what will make him an asset in the NFL.
“I think people that are able to do a couple more things than just their natural position are always going to be valuable,” Ervin said. “I’ve always prided myself on being able to do as much as I can on the field.”
In terms of projections as a player, Ervin reminds me a lot of Dexter McCluster when he arrived in the NFL from Ole Miss. Best case scenario, he can turn into a Darren Sproles type talent, a player Ervin recently admitted he idolizes and plays like.
While Ervin may not be the first of his kind to join the league, he certainly has the potential to add an entirely new element to the Houston Texans offense. Maybe, just maybe, he’s the missing piece for the “New England of the South.”
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Main image via theagleswire.usatoday.com