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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After a rough, disheartening loss the night before to even the series at one game apiece, the Astros tried to shake it off and regroup for a win on Thursday to get the series win against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Here is a quick recap of the finale:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 5, Astros 4.

Record: 6-6, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Junior Guerra (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (0-1, 40.50 ERA).

Bielak tosses an impressive start as Houston puts him in winning position

After both teams finished the first three innings scoreless, the Astros were able to get a little bit of good luck on their side, unlike the night prior. Jose Altuve started the inning with a much-needed single, stole second, then moved to third on a groundout for the second out. That set up Yuli Gurriel, who hit a ball down the third-base line that would strike the bag and bounce away from Arizona, allowing Altuve to score and put Houston up 1-0.

Though he likely would have preferred more run support, Brandon Bielak made do with that one run in his first career MLB start. He was able to complete five innings of work, holding Arizona scoreless over that span despite allowing a runner in each inning. He left in line for the win, with a final line of 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR.

Altuve extends the lead, then Diamondbacks go ahead

Jose Altuve helped double the lead in the top of the sixth, connecting for a one-out solo home run to make it 2-0. With Bielak's night over at five innings, Cy Sneed took over in the bottom of the sixth and allowed back-to-back one-out doubles to cut Houston's lead in half. He allowed a single to put runners on the corners before Dusty Baker would move on to another reliever to try and preserve the lead. Blake Taylor would enter but allowed the tying RBI-single to take Bielak out of winning position. Taylor would go on to allow a go-ahead run before getting out of the jam.

In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor was still on the mound but would only get two outs before another call to the pen. Andre Scrubb would enter and get the final out of the inning. In the top of the eighth, Jose Altuve would improve to 3-for-4 on the night with a two-out double, setting up Alex Bregman for a go-ahead two-run home run to make it 4-3, Houston.

Ryan Pressly allows the walk-off

Scrubb went back to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and was able to record a 1-2-3 inning to move the game to the ninth. After a scoreless top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly would attempt to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Instead, he would allow the walk-off, loading the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles before a two-RBI single to give Arizona the win and the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Oakland to kick off a three-game weekend series with the A's on Friday at 8:10 PM Central. The A's will send Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.93 ERA) to the mound while Houston will turn to Zack Greinke (0-0, 5.00 ERA) to help cut down Oakland's division lead.

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