Owners should keep tabs on the backfield battles in Texas

It's been said that everything's bigger in Texas. That's definitely the case when it comes to the backfield situations stirring with the Texans and Cowboys. These two teams should boast some major offensive firepower this season, so the fantasy implications of their respective running attacks could be, well, Texas-sized.

The Texans have a three-headed battle waging between Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate. Foster has opened training camp on top of the depth chart, but he's not getting much respect from a fantasy perspective. Based on NFL.com's average draft position (ADP) list, Foster (148.36) is being taken behind Slaton (143.79) and Tate (109.14) in the majority of drafts.

It's no surprise that Tate is the first Texans back being taken in fantasy leagues, though. Despite the fact that he's third in the team's current pecking order, he clearly has the most potential.

The Auburn product rushed for an impressive 1,362 yards (5.2 YPC) and 10 touchdowns in his final collegiate season and was a second-round pick (No. 58 overall) in April's Draft. However, he missed the majority of OTAs with a hamstring injury -- that's part of the reason he's looking up at Foster and Slaton entering camp.

Tate has the tools to be a solid early-down and short-yardage option in the future, though, which is something coach Gary Kubiak has coveted. The question is how soon into the future he takes on that prominent role.

If Foster is impressive during camp, chances are he's going to open the regular season as the starter for Kubiak. Reports out of Houston have been extremely positive on the second-year back, who showed flashes of potential at the end of last season. In the final two games, Foster posted a combined 216 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Slaton, who is coming off neck surgery, opened Friday's practice without a red non-contact jersey. While that's positive news, there's still some risk with Slaton from a fantasy perspective. He has little chance to re-gain the starting role he earned and thrived in as a rookie, and that sort of ailment is worrisome for any running back in the hard-hitting NFL.

With Foster in the lead and both Tate and Slaton over their respective injuries, this is a competition that fantasy leaguers need to monitor. Tate has the most upside of the three, but Slaton offers added value in PPR leagues due to his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield. Regardless of who earns the early-down role, Slaton is going to see more than his share of opportunities to catch the football.

Tate and Slaton are both worth low middle-round picks, but Foster clearly needs to be on the radar. Even if the popular opinion is that he'll eventually have the least value of this threesome, he should still be taken in the middle to late rounds. If Foster retains the starting role for the Texans' opener against the Colts, he'll have flex-starter value.

The backfield battle in Big D has a different feel, but it's no less important in fantasy land.

Felix Jones has been labeled the favorite to start this season by countless "experts," but the Cowboys official Web site is reporting that the top spot on the depth chart is still Barber's to lose. Regardless of which back is on the field first, a committee situation appears to be imminent.

In an effort to help endure more wear and tear, Jones has bulked up his upper body by about 8 pounds and will open camp around 225. Hopefully that will improve his durability -- something he has lacked at the NFL level. On the flip side, Barber has slimmed down and looks a lot quicker. He has also spent his share of time dealing with injuries in recent seasons, so coordinator Jason Garrett will likely use an even timeshare to keep his top two backs fresh and out of the trainer's room.

Jones, who emerged as the team's better back down the stretch in 2009, is in line for more touches and has some sleeper value in fantasy circles. Consider him a low-end No. 2 fantasy back or flex starter in the high middle rounds.

While Jones might finish with more yards, Barber should get the nod in terms of touchdowns. He'll remain the first option in short-yardage and goal-line situations, so a season with eight to 10 touchdowns isn't out of the question in what should be a powerful offense.

Remember, some of Barber's best fantasy numbers were recorded when he was second on the depth chart behind Julius Jones and serving in a "closer's" role. So while Jones might be getting more of the press in fantasy circles, owners shouldn't overlook Barber in drafts.

In fact, he could be a solid value if he falls in the middle rounds.

Tashard Choice, who has also proven to be a valuable fantasy asset in the past, is worth a late-round flier as well. If either Jones or Barber suffers a short- or long-term ailment during the course of the season, Choice will see a more prominent role and become a popular option off the waiver wire.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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