The Texans knew RB Arian Foster was talented. Seemingly everyone did. Nonetheless, in the 2009 NFL draft, Foster wasn't one of the 19 tailbacks drafted after a disappointing senior season at Tennessee sent his standing among NFL evaluators plummeting.
In Houston, the Texans turned on the film of the 6-1, 227-pound Foster and "saw a talented player, a player (who) was inconsistent in his final year" at Tennessee, remembered RB coach Chick Harris. They also saw a back with the physical ability and instincts needed to be a good pro.
The Texans took a chance on Foster, signing him as a free agent. Their faith, and Foster's diligence, have paid off in ways no one could have ever imagined.
In his full first season as the Texans' starting running back in 2010, Foster led the NFL in rushing yards (1,616) and rushing touchdowns (16) while adding 66 catches for 604 yards and a pair of receiving TDs. His 2,220 yards from scrimmage were a league-high, too.
For his efforts, Foster, 24, garnered Most Improved Player of the Year honors from the Professional Football Writers of America and Pro Football Weekly.
Foster said personal growth was a key factor in his exceptional season.
"I think the thing that I improved the most was my maturity on and off the field as a football player and a man," Foster said, noting that the attributes go "hand-in-hand."
Foster wasn't an instant success story in Houston. The Texans waived him on Sept. 5, 2009, and any other team could have claimed him. The following day, the Texans added him to their practice squad.
Thankfully for Houston, no other team signed him to their active roster. And slowly but surely, he began to show progress.
"His work habits steadily improved through his first year here," Harris said.
In November, he was added to the active roster; by December, the Texans were ready to give him a longer look. He responded with two strong performances to end the '09 season, racking up a combined 216 rushing yards.
Leading up to this season, he held off all challengers to keep the starting job. And in the season opener vs. Indianapolis, he had a breakthrough performance, rushing for a franchise-record 231 yards and three TDs in a 34-24 win over the Colts.
He would rush for 100 yards or more seven other times, including Week Four at Oakland, where he had his only major setback of the season. After missing meetings, he was benched for the start of the game. He would enter the game in the second quarter and proceed to rack up a combined 189 yards and two TDs in Houston's 31-24 win.
He responded to the benching by addressing it head-on and vowing to overcome it, an approach he took all season.
"I'm glad everything worked out," he said. "It could have easily turned the wrong way if I didn't have the same attitude about it."
He learned something about a positive mindset when he was undrafted, he said, noting the pleasures of seeking the "silver lining" in a tough situation.
"You can only control what you can control," Foster said. "You can control your attitude. You can control how hard you work, how hard you want it."
He's living proof of that.
Pro Football Weekly's annual awards issue (dated Jan. 23) is on sale now, featuring All-NFL, All-Conference and All-Rookie teams, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Executive of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year — all selected by PFW editors and contributors along with members of the Professional Football Writers of America — as well as a Golden Toe Award selected by PFW editors only. The print edition also contains a preview of the draft outlook for the first four teams to make selections in April, as well as previews of the two conference championship games. The print edition is available at retail outlets around the country and also online at PFWstore.com , where you can purchase a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.