TIGHT END BREAKDOWN

Houston Texans positional preview: Tight End

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

Back with another installment, focusing on the positional previews for the Houston Texans roster. Up next, it is time to look at Houston's tight end situation.

The Houston Texans have been seeking a quality tight end since the departure of Owen Daniels in 2013. The Texans believed they found their answer in Ryan Griffin, but off-field issueslast offseason forced the Texans to part-ways with their former sixth-round pick. Despite the loss of Griffin, 2019 may have been the Texans' most productive season at the position. Darren Fells emerged as one of the team's top offensive threats, while Jordan Akins provided Houston with a reliable backup option.

The tight end core has the potential to become Houston's most talented position in 2020. The Texans have two potential starters in Akins and Fells, plus a respectable backup with Jordan Thomas back to full strength.

Darren Fells: Starter

It is hard to refute the impact Darren Fells had on the Texans' success in 2019. During his first season in Houston, he sagged 34 catches for 341 yards and set a franchise record for the most end zone receptions by a tight end with seven. Fells' career-season led to a two-year contract extension worth $7 million.

After exceeding expectations as a wild-card free agent last season, Fells will maintain his role as Houston's starting tight end in 2020. He should play the same role as a red zone threat for Deshaun Watson, but may take on a broader responsibility within the offense given DeAndre Hopkins' departure.

However, at age 34, Bill O'Brien should utilize his tight end depth to prevent Fells from experiencing another second half slump — similar to 2019.

Jordan Akins: Backup

By the end of next season, do not be surprise if Jordan Akins has taken the reigns as the Texans No. 1 tight end. Each season he has continuously made strides to improve his game, which has awarded the 6-foot-3 tight end more playing time on game-days. In 2019, Akins received a 25% increase in his snap count (61%) during the 16 games played last season. He led all tight ends in targets with 55 on the year, while pulling down 36 receptions for 418 yards and two touchdowns.

The improvements Akins made since his rookie year should continue as he enters his third season. He told TexansTV in May that he has spent his offseason working on his physical attribute to become a better blocker in 2020. Needless to say, if Akins takes his game to another level for the third straight season, expect to see the Texans to possess one of the league's top tight end tandems over the next two seasons.

Jordan Thomas: Third String

Jordan Thomas had a breakout rookie season in 2018. He appeared in all 16 regular-season games (10 starts) recording 20 receptions for 215 yards (10.6 AVG) and four touchdowns. The potential he showcased each week gave the Texans more confidences in their decision to part ways with Ryan Griffin last May. Unfortunately, a preseason rib injury caused Thomas to miss 11 games during his sophomore season.

Injuries squandered his chances to become the Texans' starting tight end — given the production of Darren Fells — but Thomas can still challenge Jordan Akins has the team's primary backup in 2020. Although he has the talent to accomplish the goal, it's going to be an uphill battle for Thomas to reclaim his 2018 projection playing behind Akins and Fells.

Kahale Warring: Depth

By far the most intriguing player on the Texans roster is Kahale Warring. In 2019, the Texans used a third-round pick to select the 6-foot-5 tight end from San Diego State, but a preseason concussion placed Warring on injured reserve for the entire season. No one knows what is going on with Warring, but the Texans continue to remain high on the unproven prospect despite never appearing in a game.

In comparison to last offseason, the Texans' tight end core is more stable heading into the 2020 season. Meaning Warring may be on the boundary of becoming another futile spot on the Texans' 53-man roster.


Dylan Stapleton: Depth

Dylan Stapleton is one of nine undrafted rookies who signed with the Texans in April. The 6-foot-5 tight end recorded 35 passes for 426 yards and a touchdown last season while at James Madison University in 2019.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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