TIGHT END BREAKDOWN

Houston Texans positional preview: Tight End

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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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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