Dameon Pierce, a hard-nosed running back who, for reasons that Florida fans will never fully understand, was never anointed as the Gators’ featured running back, has heard his name called in the fashion he’s always dreamed.
The Texans selected Pierce with the 107th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. You can watch his Florida highlights here.
Pierce isn’t the biggest back in this class, nor is he the fastest. But in a vein similar to fellow Gator Zachary Carter, what he lacks in speed and size he more than makes up for with his grit.
Any objective analysis of Pierce has to start with this play against FSU in 2021, displaying an attitude of: “helmet be damned, and my safety be damned, this is a rivalry game and I want this touchdown”. Of course, running without a helmet is illegal, and Pierce got slapped with an illegal participation penalty for his efforts- but that should provide everyone with a pretty good glimpse into Pierce’s MO. And Pierce will always be quick to remind you that three plays later, he scored again- but this time for real.
Of course, no one player builds an appeal on the strength of one play or even one trait. But over the years, Pierce’s grit has turned him into a nasty street fighter of a runner who packs a far stronger punch than his frame (5’10, 215) would suggest. He doesn’t merely withstand contact; he initiates it when he has to and can push a pile to the point where being ganged up on in the backfield somehow results in a two yard gain. He sometimes seems to outright enjoy his small frame, as being naturally low to the ground combined with the amount of power he brings makes him incredibly difficult to tackle.
But he’s a far more complete back than just filling the portfolio of a small dude who runs big. He’s more than quick and fast enough to exploit a closing hole. The vision to detect openings is above average for a Power Five college running back. His footwork is excellent. He became a very good pass blocker by the end of his time at Florida. And by his junior season, he was a bona fide weapon in the passing game.
Most impressive of all is his ball security- the single most important trait for any running back to have. Pierce fumbled a grand total of two times in his four years at Florida- and one of them came on a blatantly missed targeting call.
But there were concerns with Pierce nonetheless, and they mostly stemmed from his mysterious lack of carries at Florida. Pierce touched the ball 329 times in four seasons for 1,806 yards. As a senior, his touches actually decreased from 106 the year before to 100… yet his yardage totals went up from 503 on those 106 carries in 2020 to 574 in 2021. Decent stats, to be sure, but not overly impressive. So what was the deal? Why didn’t he get more carries?
Well, Texans fans: in fairness to Florida’s coaching staff, the Gators did have two other above-average running backs in Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright last year, but the nicest way to put this is that Florida’s head coach wasn’t all there mentally in 2021.
There was the Gators’ astounding lack of urgency that cost Florida a win against Kentucky. There was the fact that Florida went with its second-best quarterback rather than its best quarterback for far longer than could be rationally explained. And similarly, there was the fact that Florida employed shockingly incompetent assistants at both the defensive coordinator and offensive line roles for the duration of Dan Mullen’s tenure, and only five or six games after it had become obvious to even the most patient boosters- which of course was way too late to salvage something from both the season and Mullen’s job- did that get addressed.
Put frankly, Dameon Pierce was victimized by an obscene display of coaching malpractice in his final year at Florida. But don’t let the statistics fool you, Texans fans. Your team just picked up an absolute bull of a runner who loves the game and is willing to literally die for a few extra yards.
Best of luck, Dameon. See you on NFL Red Zone.