In 2009, the Houston Texans signed undrafted rookie Arian Foster from the University of Tennessee to their practice squad. Foster’s many accomplishments since then include a rushing title in 2010, three Pro Bowl appearances, claim to the franchise records for rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns. Fast forward four years later and the Texans hope they have found another undrafted diamond in the rough in SEC country, Arkansas alum Dennis Johnson.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported on Twitter that the versatile running back has been “the most impressive undrafted free agent in the Texans offseason program.” The performance bodes well for the rookie as he battles for the third spot on the Texans running back depth chart with another talented undrafted rookie, Cierre Wood from the University of Notre Dame.
While at Arkansas, Johnson found himself buried behind Kniles Davis in the depth chart but still found a way to shine when Davis went down, grabbing the spotlight much like Foster did for the Texans when rookie Ben Tate went out for the 2010 season with a broken ankle. Johnson also led the SEC in all-purpose yardage with 5,330 all-purpose yards in his four-year career. The Texans are searching for a third-down back with solid receiving skills to replace Justin Forsett, who bolted to play with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Johnson looks like he could be the man for the job.
Johnson could also separate himself from the competition with his sensational ability as a kick returner. He left Arkansas ranked as their all-time leader in return yardage, gaining 2,784 return yards. The Texans already possess a solid kick returner in Keshawn Martin, who ranked 12th overall in the NFL in return yardage, but you can never have too many playmakers and, for all his success in 2012, Martin didn’t break away for a touchdown.
There’s still plenty of uncertainty in the running back battle between Johnson and Woods but at this moment the former has to feel good about the impression he has made to start the offseason.