Steve Slaton (Jeff Gentner/AP)
The Texans' 2008 NFL draft was all about addressing needs. Not the least bit concerned with bringing in over-hyped media darlings, they drafted talented players who fit their system. Offense and defensive needs were met with exacting precision as they took players who showed the kind of athleticism that is essential to the Texans' brand of football.
While no one could have foreseen the trade with Baltimore, the Texans stuck to the script and adjusted on the fly. It was that trade that allowed the Texans to acquire a player who just may be the playmaking ground threat they've been looking for.
Although he was the smallest player taken by the Texans, he undoubtedly carries the biggest name. Halfback phenom Steve Slaton, out of West Virginia University, put up gaudy numbers both as a rusher and as a receiver. He was always a threat to find the end zone, no matter what side of the 50 yard line his team was on.
In 2006 Steve Slaton put up some of the gaudiest numbers the Big East has ever seen. He rushed for over 1,700 yards and found the end zone 16 times. When combined with his receiving numbers, Slaton accounted for over 2100 yards of total offense and 18 touchdowns.
He rushed for over a thousand yards each of his three years at West Virginia. Equally impressive was his 5.8 yards per carry (ypc) average. That average is on par with Darren McFadden's 5.9 ypc. The Oakland Raiders selected McFadden with the fourth overall pick, making him the first running back taken in the draft. There is no doubting McFadden's talent or his ability to carry the load, but he won't have the system nor the coaching staff that Steve Slaton is being welcomed into. Slaton will be coming in as a versatile role player as he adjusts to the NFL, a luxury that McFadden will most certainly not have.
Projected as a complementary back, Steve Slaton has been described as a one-cut-and-go type runner who is built for the zone-blocking scheme. John M. Kotch Jr. of KFFL.com had the following pre-draft analysis of Slaton's abilities:
"Slaton shows good strength and power despite his smaller size. He benched pressed 225 pounds 19 times at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine. He has good vision and burst. He is extremely agile and has shown breakaway speed. Slaton is a great outside runner that would be perfect for a team that implements a one-cut style running game, such as the Denver Broncos."
According to John Antonik, West Virginia University’s Director of New Media, Steve Slaton has worked in a system that was fashioned after Alex Gibbs zone blocking scheme:
“Gibbs’ zone-blocking schemes were copied right down to the letter by (former offensive line coach) Rick Trickett at West Virginia and Steve is very familiar running the football in that system. He won’t be lost the first day of mini-camp, that’s for sure.”
In the post-draft press conference, Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spoke at length about Slaton, his talents, and his projected role with the Texans.
"We think this guy has special talents. He's a receiving-type back; a guy that can play third downs and can be very hard to cover out of the backfield and is a big time mismatch for linebackers in coverage. He's a very tough guy and a very smart guy. He had one of the highest Wonderlic scores at the running back position at the combine in Indianapolis. He's a guy that is very reliable as a person and we think he has the talent and skill to fit a role that we are looking for.
"We have two guys right now that we think can carry the load, but this guy can come in a fill a role. We can use him on third downs, we can use him in special situations to come in and be a change of pace type player. He's got the size and the quickness and the mentality to do the things we're going to ask. I think he will fill that role in the pass game and in the run game and in one-back situations."
Shanahan sees Slaton being able to make contributions similar to Reggie Bush and Kevin Faulk. While neither one of those players are built to carry the load of an every-down back, there is no doubting the mismatches they create coming out of the back field. Slaton's ability to handle the ball on a draw or catch a pass in the flat should give the Texans intriguing options as they try to move the chains.
Steve Slaton has certainly the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be another weapon in what is shaping up to be a dynamic offensive attack. With his versatility and play making ability, he is poised to make an immediate impact as the Texans set their sights on the 2008 playoffs.