Texans rookie Slaton getting stonger as season wears on

Nine running backs were selected ahead of Texans running back Steve Slaton in April's NFL Draft.

Four of them -- Carolina's Jonathan Stewart, Baltimore's Ray Rice, Detroit's Kevin Smith and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles -- are sharing carries with other prominent and more experienced running backs.

Rookie backs on the rise

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**Houston Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton was the 10th running back drafted in April's NFL Draft. Through 14 weeks, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound running back out of West Virginia has outperformed all but two of the nine backs taken ahead of him.

Three of them -- Dallas' Felix Jones, Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall and Oakland's Darren McFadden -- have had promising rookie campaigns either ended or slowed by injuries.

Only two -- rookie of the year candidates Chris Johnson and Matt Forte -- have had the impact on their respective teams that Slaton has had on the Texans this season.

The Texans drafted Slaton in the third round of April's NFL Draft to be more of a third-down back behind veterans Ahman Green and Chris Brown. When injuries opened the door for Slaton's first start in Week 3, the rookie responded with 116 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He's started every game since, while averaging five yards per carry.

"We knew we were getting a good football player," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. "We knew we were getting a smart player -- a guy that we expected to be a third-down player right away for us. And then, all of a sudden through the injuries, you know, we went with him and he surprised everybody."

Twelve weeks later, Slaton, Johnson and Forte have all eclipsed 1,000 yards -- tying an NFL record for the most rookies to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

"It means a lot," said Slaton of his 1,000-yard milestone. "I know it means a lot to my linemen. That's what we've been talking about this whole year. We were getting closer and closer to 1,000. To me, just to come in and not be expected to have a season like this is very big."

At a point in the season when most rookie running backs are hitting the proverbial "rookie wall," Slaton has put together his most impressive performances of the season. Since Week 11, Slaton has put together three 100-yard performances, including 160 total yards in Houston's 24-21 win over Green Bay last Sunday. Since Week 11, Slaton has posted 571 total yards, the most for any running back in that time.

"I think it's really impressive what he's doing," Texans right tackle Eric Winston said. "If you're around football right now, you know rookies are supposed to start going the other way. Especially guys forced to start from the beginning of the season -- they aren't supposed to be doing this in Week 10 or Week 11. He's really showing up and putting games away."

Which is exactly what Slaton did against division rival Jacksonville in Week 13, capping off a 182-yard performance with rushing touchdowns on consecutive fourth-quarter drives to seal Houston's 30-17 victory on Monday Night Football.

"He reminds me of (Washington Redskins running back Clinton) Portis personality-wise," said Kubiak following Houston's win over the Jaguars. "He's got a great personality; nothing is too big for him. To watch him get stronger at the end of the game was very impressive."

Slaton mirrors Portis in other ways as well. Through 14 weeks, Slaton is one of just eight running backs, including Portis, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Forte and Johnson with over 200 carries and over 1,000 rushing yards.

Slaton currently ranks third behind Johnson and Jets running back Thomas Jones in AFC rushing yards. His nine touchdowns are tied with Johnson for fifth most in the AFC, giving him the kind of numbers worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.

"I kind of put that at the end and hopefully at the end of the year I'll get there," said Slaton of the Pro Bowl. "That would be an honor. Not a lot of people as rookies in their first year get to go to the Pro Bowl. A lot of people don't get to go throughout their whole careers. That would definitely be a positive."

At 6-7, the Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention, yet Slaton still has plenty to play for. With three games remaining, he is 157 yards shy of Houston's single-season rushing record, currently held by Domanick Williams (1,188).

"It would mean a lot, said Slaton of establishing the Texans franchise record. "This franchise being so young, to come in and establish a name for myself, when I'm not really supposed to be doing it…It would definitely be a big thing."

Steve Slaton Highlights: Week 14 | Week 13 | Highlights: Texans 24, Packers 21

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