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Dameon Pierce: The Running Back You Want This Year and Beyond

Dameon Pierce - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Dameon Pierce is having a historic season. With 505 rushing yards in his first six games, he is on pace for over 1,400 yards in the season, a feat only accomplished by 14 other rookies in NFL history. He’s the RB13 in PPR, and he’s had three top-12 finishes in the past four weeks.

So why are many dynasty analysts trashing him and trying to convince managers to unload him? Less than halfway into his amazing rookie season, some are already trying to predict the Texans’ off-season moves. Can we just have a moment to savor the special season we are seeing?

Pierce had a strong college career, leading all Florida halfbacks in yards and carries during his junior and senior seasons. It’s just that Florida has a stubborn tradition of playing future tight ends and running backs at quarterback, ensuring that their RB1s have a role akin to the Eagles' RB1. While Pierce ran the ball 100 times for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021, QB Emory Jones took 143 carries. Pierce was drafted in the fourth round and entered the season behind Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead on the Texans' depth chart. He did very well in the preseason and earned the starting job by early September.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Dameon Pierce’s 2022 Season: Good For Redraft And Dynasty

After a slow start in Week 1, going for just 33 yards on 11 carries, he increased his yardage over the next three weeks, scored his first touchdown in Week 3, and then broke out for 131 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, plus six receptions, against the Chargers in Week 4. He ran for over 90 yards on over 20 carries in each of the past two games. Not bad for someone who was taken at an average dynasty ADP of 1.12 and an average redraft ADP in the late 7th round.

Pierce was the quickest of all the rookie RBs to take on a bell-cow role, while Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker were being eased into their respective offenses.

Yards/Game YPA MTF MTF/Carry Yds After Contact/Carry Rec Yds/Game PFF Offensive Grade Weight
Dameon Pierce, 2022 84.2 4.8 38 0.358 3.96 13.7 81.7 218
Jonathan Taylor, 2020 77.9 4.2 41 0.177 2.95 19.9 83.9 226
Najee Harris, 2021 70.6 3.9 57 0.186 2.97 27.5 70.7 232
Breece Hall, 2022 27.2 5.8 16 0.200 4.11 12.8 69.5 220
Kenneth Walker, 2022 68.5 6.1 25 0.301 3.96 4.5 77.5 211

Pierce has met or exceeded the play of not just Hall and Walker but previous offensive rookie of the year candidates Jonathan Taylor and Najee Harris. He excels at breaking tackles and churning for extra yards after contact. Even dynasty managers who are down on Pierce’s long-term prospects would have to admit he has been a great value in 2022 and will continue to be for the rest of the season.


Dameon Pierce Historic Comparison

I don’t see why Pierce wouldn’t be able to continue this success in 2023 and beyond, either. If he continues his pace, Pierce will finish with about 1,470 yards this season. Other running backs to hit the 1,400-yard mark in their rookie season include Eric Dickerson, Ezekiel Elliott, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, and Barry Sanders.

We don’t know if Pierce will keep up his pace or if he’ll get injured, but he is almost a lock to hit four digits. (If he doesn’t, then we really should worry about his future prospects.) So let’s look at 1,000-yard rookies since 2010.

Name Year Team Yds YPC Yd/Game Was Starter Next Year? Career 1,000-Yd Seasons Draft Round
Ezekiel Elliott* 2016 DAL 1,631 5.1 108.7 Yes 4 1
Alfred Morris 2012 WAS 1,613 4.8 100.8 Yes 3 6
Doug Martin 2012 TB 1,454 4.6 90.9 Yes 2 1
Kareem Hunt* 2017 KC 1,327 4.9 82.9 Yes 1 3
Jordan Howard 2016 CHI 1,313 5.2 87.5 Yes 2 5
Saquon Barkley* 2018 NYG 1,307 5.0 81.7 Yes 2 1
Najee Harris* 2021 PIT 1,200 3.9 70.6 Yes 1 1
Eddie Lacy 2013 GB 1,178 4.1 78.5 Yes 2 2
Jonathan Taylor* 2020 IND 1,169 5.0 77.9 Yes 2 2
Josh Jacobs* 2019 OAK 1,150 4.8 88.5 Yes 2 1
Jeremy Hill 2014 CIN 1,124 5.1 70.3 Yes 1 2
Todd Gurley 2015 STL 1,106 4.8 85.1 Yes 3 1
James Robinson* 2020 JAX 1,070 4.5 76.4 Yes 1 UFA
Leonard Fournette* 2017 JAX 1,040 3.9 80.0 Yes 2 1
Phillip Lindsay* 2018 DEN 1,037 5.4 69.1 Yes 2 UFA

Of the rookie running backs who ran for over 1,000 yards in a season since 2010, every single one entered Week 1 of the following season as their team’s RB1, and 11 of them went on to have at least one more 1,000-yard rushing season. A few of those who are still active—most likely Najee Harris—could still have more 1,000-yard rushing seasons.


Dameon Pierce’s Future Prospects

After what the Texans have seen from Pierce, why would they want to get rid of him?

He’s averaging 84.2 yards per game through six games. The last rookie running back to average over 80.0 yards per game in a full healthy season was Saquon Barkley in 2018—and he’s the RB2 four years later. (Elijah Mitchell did do 87.5 yards per game in 2021, but he missed six games and then went down with another injury in Week 1 of 2022. I’ll get to him.)

The idea is that the Texans have a new GM coming in, and the new guy doesn’t have any attachment to who the old regime drafted. Nor was there much draft capital invested in Pierce. The Texans have a lot of draft picks. They could draft another running back. Look at what happened to other late-round RBs that had pretty good rookie seasons!

But the new regime does care about winning. If they don’t win, they’re the ones who are going to be losing their jobs in a couple of years. So it is in their own interest to keep the talent around that can help them win.

It doesn’t matter what round Pierce was drafted. He is playing as well as the RBs that were taken in round one or two recently.

The fact that he is producing at a first-round level for a fourth-round price just means he’s a steal. The fact that few other RBs taken in the fourth round or later produced 1,000-yard seasons just shows that there is not much elite talent left in the fourth round. Teams are usually able to spot the talent but not always.

Yards/Game YPA MTF MTF/Carry Yds After Contact/Carry Rec Yds/Game PFF Offensive Grade Weight
Dameon Pierce, 2022 84.2 4.8 38 0.358 3.96 13.7 81.7 218
Elijah Mitchell, 2021 87.5 4.7 37 0.179 3.70 12.5 76.3 200
Michael Carter, 2021 45.6 4.3 39 0.229 3.37 10.8 71.0 201
James Robinson, 2020 76.4 4.5 35 0.146 3.18 24.6 72.9 219

As for the comparison to other recent running backs, there is no comparison. Pierce is playing at a much higher level than other recent rookies.

Pierce is superior to all in almost every rushing category, and, crucially, he is much larger than Elijah Mitchell and Michael Carter. Carter and Mitchell are just 200-201 pounds, so it makes sense they would struggle to handle a lead back’s workload without getting injured as often as they do. Most starting NFL running backs are over 210 pounds. The Jets traded for the 219-pound Robinson when Breece Hall went down.


The Texans' 2023 Offseason

The Texans will have needs at many positions in the 2023 off-season. Behind Pierce, they have weak backup RBs, and Rex Burkhead will be a free agent. Behind Brandin Cooks, they have weak WRs. Davis Mills is not considered by many to be a franchise QB. They have one of the worst defenses in the league.  A couple of mock drafts have the Texans taking a quarterback or edge rusher with their first pick.

The Texans will have 11 draft picks, two of which look like they might come early in the first round (their own and one that Cleveland sent them for Deshaun Watson). They could draft electric Texas Longhorns RB prospect Bijan Robinson. They could also be in the running for Alabama QB Bryce Young (#1 overall on PFF’s big board), Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud (#3), or Stanford QB Tanner McKee (#17).

A team that has been as bad as the Texans for so many years has a lot of holes to fill. Number one running back is not one of those needs. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if they take Robinson, given that NFL scouts, coaches, and GMs are seduced by such talent. But they shouldn’t make taking an elite RB their priority.

If they did draft a first-round RB, Pierce would have to compete for the starting job. He had to compete for the starting job this season, and he won it. Bijan Robinson appears to be much more talented than Rex Burkhead or Marlon Mack, so it wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be impossible.

Also, the Texans would probably give both RBs a role—at least early on—if they added another top-caliber RB. This season, with Travis Etienne healthy, the Jags still gave James Robinson 10+ carries in five games and 20+ carries in one game before trading him to the Jets.

It would make more sense for the Texans to sign a backup RB in the offseason. Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mark Ingram, Raheem Mostert, D’Onta Foreman, Mike Boone, Samaje Perine, D’Ernest Johnson, Darrel Williams, Dontrell Hilliard, Darrell Henderson, and Kenyan Drake are all scheduled to be free agents this offseason.


The Amon-Ra Example

Some analysts are looking at Pierce and only seeing his fourth-round draft capital and naming just any fourth-round RB as a comp. Some analysts last season looked at Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and saw a fourth-round draft pick and made him one of the most faded players amongst the analyst community. Sometimes the analysts ignore talent and try too hard to make the “sharp” calls.

There are so many unknowns for the second half of the season, let alone next off-season. But Dameon Pierce has a greater hold on his backfield than Michael Carter ever did. He’s playing like one of the best rookies of the decade, and if you want to sell high now, you should get his value. Pierce is worth a first-round pick in the top half of the draft.

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