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 issues last 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 media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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