The Houston Texans haven’t had consistent production from the tight end position since Owen Daniels was catching passes from Matt Schaub. Last season, CJ Fiedorowicz missed most of the season due to concussions, and was forced to retire early in the offseason. Backups Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson both missed games due to concussions in 2017 as well. With no clear answer at tight end on the roster, the Texans decided to address the position via the draft and did not add anyone via free agency. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Texans’ tight ends this season.
Losing CJ Fiedorowicz
The Texans invested a third-round pick in Fiedorowicz in 2014, and after a strong season in which he produced 54 catches for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns—he was awarded a contract extension worth $21 million. Fast forward to today—Fiedorowicz was forced to retire after suffering three concussions over five games. The Texans are losing a solid young player in Fiedorowicz. ProFootballFocus graded him as a top-ten tight end in the league in 2016, as well as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL throughout his career. His abilities in both the run game and passing game will not be easy to replace.
Ryan Griffin will likely find himself atop the Texans tight end depth chart in the preseason. A sixth-round pick in 2013, Griffin has been a backup and spot-starter for the Texans over the past five seasons. His best season came in 2016, where he caught 50 passes for 442 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2017, Griffin struggled to stay healthy—appearing in only seven games. In those games, Griffin managed only 13 catches for 158 yards and one score. According to ProFootballFocus, however, Griffin graded out as the best receiving tight end on the roster, posting a grade of 65.7 (which is considered “below-average”.) Griffin has a unique opportunity to take over the starting role and at the very least, will be the number two tight end in this weak group.
Stephen Anderson has been pleasantly productive for an undrafted free agent. In 15 games and 5 starts for the Texans in 2017, Anderson had 25 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown. He played the most snaps of any tight end on the roster with 435. Anderson is small for the position at 6’2’’, so he won’t offer much as a blocker, but his size and speed make him a shiftier player against linebackers and safeties. Anderson isn’t more than a matchup tight end, however, and will be pushed hard by rookie third round pick Jordan Akins.
I expected the Texans to go with the more well-rounded Ian Thomas at pick 98 in the NFL draft, but the Texans opted for Senior Bowl standout and former baseball player Jordan Akins. In 2017 at the University of Central Florida, Akins saw over 43% of his catches go for over 20 yards. The Texans hope he will bring that same big-play ability to their up-and-coming offense. After coaching him at the Senior Bowl, Bill O’Brien was impressed with the 26-year-old. His routes need work and he won’t help as a blocker, but he is more refined as a pass-catcher than Stephen Anderson and has a chance to earn significant playing time in his rookie season.
Another 2018 draft pick, Jordan Thomas primarily played wide receiver at Mississippi State. He’ll play tight end for the Texans, where he’ll be able to show off his monster frame (6’6’’, 265 pounds,) and speed (4.74 40-yard-dash.) A former basketball player, the Texans are hoping his size and speed will translate to the football field. Given his size, the Texans will try to develop Thomas’ abilities as a blocker as well, especially considering they lost their only blocking tight end CJ Fiedorowicz. He may not be able to contribute in 2018, but will at least be given a chance to show off his physical traits and potential in the preseason.
With young weapons all over the offense, the Texans will need one of their young tight ends to step up in 2018. CJ Fiedorowicz was more well-rounded than any tight end on the roster currently, and will be hard to replace. If no one shines in training camp and the preseason, expect the Texans to take a “tight end by committee” approach next season.