HOUSTON – Dameon Pierce established his punishing, dynamic running style, and his status as the top rookie running back despite being drafted in the fourth round.
Derek Stingley Jr. didn’t allow a touchdown pass, displaying the athleticism and coverage skills the Texans envisioned when they selected him with the third overall pick of the draft instead of cornerback Sauce Gardner.
The Texans have no regrets about either decision. They were two bright spots for a 1-12-1 team.
Although both of the Texans’ top two rookies’ seasons were cut short by injuries with Pierce and Stingley placed on injured reserve Saturday with a high-ankle sprain and hamstring strain, respectively, they both delivered strong performances before they were shut down for the remainder of the season.
Pierce got injured against the Dallas Cowboys. An NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, he rushed for 939 yards and led all rookies with 1,104 yards from scrimmage and scored five total touchdowns. The fourth-round draft pick from Florida gained 506 yards after contact, including his epic tackle-breaking angry run against the Jacksonville Jaguars when he dragged tacklers and refused to go down.
“He had an outstanding year, let’s start with that,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “Anytime you are a rookie and you get playing time, is saying an awful lot. To be one of the best running backs in football during that rookie year says even more. He was everything we’d hoped and wanted him to be. Just excited about his future. He’ll eventually get well and be back in the backfield for us, being our starting tailback.”
Stingley, a former consensus All-American at LSU, injured his hamstring against the New York Giants in November. His hamstring injury was more severe than the Texans acknowledged initially for competitive reasons. Before he got hurt, Stingley recorded one interception, one sack, five pass breakups, no touchdowns, an opposing passer rating of 78.4 and a 63-percent completion percentage against him. He played 97 percent of the Texans’ defensive snaps in nine games before getting hurt.
He proved to be a willing tackler and ultra-competitive in pass coverage, not backing down an inch in single-coverage situations, including a matchup against Denver Broncos standout wide receiver Cameron Sutton.
“We’ve liked everything about Derek Stingley when he has played,” Smith said. “Another one of our guys who came in behind a little bit with his injury, but now, those guys have a chance to really develop their bodies and get healthy.
“I know they’re into ball. Derek is at all meetings, all the guys are getting as many mental reps as they can, which will only help them to see what it takes to win, and it takes an awful lot. How hard it is to win in this league.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com