Rookies are the lifeblood of any professional football team. They provide remarkable value and can accelerate a franchise forward in a matter of years. Especially the later round draft picks; any fortune that strikes from them is pure gold for a team.
The Texans did not have a first or second round pick this year thanks to trades with the Browns, which puts a ton of pressure on this rookie class to fill in the roster holes that would normally be sealed by top talent. So far, it looks like the Texans have a couple of prospects who are turning heads in preseason play.
Yes, I know one preseason game is not Hall of Fame criteria; it can easily be the most we see out of them, but something tells me that this staff may have had a bigger haul than some critics originally thought.
First, rookie tight end Jordan Akins strutted onto the field at the age of 26 and caught two touchdown passes in the first half against the Chiefs. After playing several years of minor league baseball, Although he admitted being “pretty nervous” after the game, Akins said that, “After that first play, the nerves calmed down a bit”. That is what we are looking for in the preseason. Get the jitters out now, settle down, and make plays. Not much helps a team win more than a reliable red zone option. Someone who is going to spread the field and be a security blanket for the QB. That role often falls to the tight end - see Antonio Gates - and has been missing on the Texans since Owen Daniels left.
I like that the coaching staff was able to watch Akins practice and play in the Senior Bowl. I like that Akins has professional sports experience in his background. I like that he came in to training camp and has immediately been productive. Akins only played ten plays and now has raised expectations for himself. Cue the Dumb and Dumber GIF:
Let’s ratchet up the hype train, shall we? Was it me or did Duke Ejiofor come out of nowhere to be a multi-talented pass rusher? Ejofor hails from Wake Forest and was a third team All-ACC product. A shoulder injury dropped Ejifor in the 2018 NFL Draft and into the lap of the Texans coaching staff.
With the Texans up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, Duke turned up the heat and began to blitz Patrick Mahomes from the left side of the defensive line. He had immediate success. Covered up by two tight ends, Ejifor sped by Demetrius Harris. He got into the backfield so quickly it pushed Mahomes up in the pocket. Ejiofor’s pressure subsequently led to a sack for Angelo Blackson. On second down, Ejiofor showcased an inside spin move that is clearly effective when not expected. Then, on third down in the same series, Ejifor dipped and ripped by the offensive tackle to force Mahomes to roll out and throw the ball away. Refinement of Ejiofor’s skills is a necessary task for the coaches since opposing teams will quickly accumulate tape on the moves that he has shown. What Whitney Mercilus has done that makes him so effective is mask his moves to make the opposing blocker unable to guess what’s coming next. Here’s hoping Ejiofor can learn to do the same.
The Texans brought Ejiofor back in the game late in the fourth quarter when the Chiefs started catching up. Every rookie needs a reason for the team to play him, and on Thursday night, Ejiofor’s reason was his intensity. Kudos to him, but now he must build on his performance against the 49ers.
Lather me up with some of that rookie hype sauce, why don’t ya? Troymaine Pope had a dynamic performance in the backfield for the Texans. He recorded 18 yards on six carriers and 47 yards on three receptions. He had the longest play of the game with a 34 yard reception on 1st and 15 in the first quarter. What I liked most about Pope was his patience while running. Not getting too greedy with yards and staying behind his blockers, he was the most elusive player in the second half of the game. He will be in a battle with Tyler Ervin for the last running back spot on the roster. If Thursday is an indication of anything, Pope may have more to offer this team than Ervin. It is still too early to tell if Pope has the talent to turn into a three-down back, but at least he has one of coolest names on the roster. Although this is Pope’s third NFL team in as many years in the league, I think there is a place for him on Houston’s roster.
Well, sometimes in life you have to pull back on the reins or you will wind up face down in the dirt with your steer sprinting off in the distance. Justin Reid on the first defensive play got juked out of his jammies by Travis Kelce. Reid had only one tackle on the day and played a relatively safe game. It will be interesting to watch how the Texans use him. With Kareem Jackson moving to safety and no Andre Hal, the third round pick is getting thrown into the Pit of Misery relatively quickly. I am sure that he will have better games ahead; it just was not as great of a performance as some of this rookie counterparts.
Two players who did not see the field (due to injury) were Martinas Rankin and fourth round wide receiver Keke Coutee. Coutee has a hamstring injury that has quelled an overall positive training camp. Rankin has been dealing with a foot injury and has been on the PUP List for the entire training camp. Not practicing and not participating in preseason is the bad way for a rookie to start his career. There is only one way to learn in the NFL, and that is by doing.
Overall, the Texans’ rookies are off to a good start. I would like to see Jermaine Kelly Jr. start getting training camp reps and potentially see the field this or next week. Additionally, watch out for sixth round pick Jordan Thomas against the 49ers. He has a lot of ground to make up and must keep Matt Lengel and Stephen Anderson at bay.