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Deshaun Watson’s Weapons In 2020: Tight Ends

Let’s take a look at which tight end might be TE1 and who might be cut.

Divisional Round - Houston Texans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A few short years ago, the Bill O’Brien era Houston Texans were considered one of the most tight end production deficient teams in the NFL. Then along came the Jordan Twins, a/k/a Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas.

Prior to Daunte Culpepper bursting onto the scene with Randy Moss, Cris Carter and the rest of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, UCF was a college almost no one associated with NFL caliber football players. In fact, before Culpepper, UCF had only put 10 players in the NFL Draft since their football program began in 1979. Since then, they’ve seen 31 players, including Pro Bowl wideout Brandon Marshall, guard Josh Sitton, tackle Jah Reid, running back Latavius Murray, defensive back Shaquill Griffin and, you guessed it, Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins.

In the third round of the 2008 NFL draft, your Houston Texans selected Jordan Akins with the 98th overall pick. In his two seasons with the Texans, Akins has started in 15 games, participated in 32, caught 53 passes on 80 targets, gained 643 yards at a 12.1 yard per catch clip, gained 33 first downs and 2 touchdowns. While that’s not quite Pro Bowl tight end production, Akins has been a piece of the puzzle O’Brien is assembling to give Deshaun Watson some viable tight end weapons.

The other half of the “Jordan Twins”, Jordan Thomas, is a product of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, home of NFL legends Brett Favre, Ray Guy, Harold Jackson and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Buffett.

Selected in the sixth round of the same 2018 draft (211th overall), Thomas had a promising rookie season, with 20 catches on 27 targets, 12 first downs, 4 touchdowns and a 74.1 catch percentage. Unfortunately, Thomas was bitten by the injury bug in 2019 which led to considerable time on the team’s injured reserve list.

Just prior to the 2019 NFL Draft, the myth and legend of Kahale Warring began to rise from the collective football psyche, with tales of nigh super-human agility, football instincts rarely seen, and a freakish ability to out-body anyone trying to go against him at the point of attack.

The 6’5.5” San Diego State product landed on the Houston Texans in the third round of the 2019 Draft, going off the board 86th overall. Unfortunately, before fans could see the fire behind all the smoke, Houston saw fit to put him on IR a year ago yesterday with little to no fanfare. Would the legend of Warring die before it was truly born? Stay tuned!

Enter Darren Fells.

Apparently, if you want to be a productive tight end on an NFL squad, you can either go to a college that puts players in the NFL Draft or you can travel the world and play basketball. The latter is exactly what Darren Fells did between 2008 and 2012, balling out professionally in the Belgian Basketball League among other things. In 2013, Fells returned to the U.S., signed with the Seattle Seahawks, and was cast aside five short months later. Fells then caught on with the Arizona Cardinals from 2014 to 2016 before kicking over to the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns for a year each.

Then life for Fells changed in a big way. He signed a one-year deal with the Deshaun Watson led Houston Texans on March 18, 2019, almost six years to the day he entered the league.

Last season saw Fells catch 34 passes on 48 targets, gain 341 yards, pick up 22 first downs, and score 7 touchdowns. These were all career single season high marks. It would seem Fells and Watson have a chemistry that clicked quickly.

Deshaun Watson’s 2020 Weapons: Tight Ends

When it comes to predicting the Houston Texans’ 53-man roster, it’s almost a given that Fells and Akins will make the squad. Assuming the Texans don’t have the room to keep four tight ends, that leaves either Thomas or Warring as the odd man out.

Thomas grabbed the brass ring on the first day of 2020 training camp, garnering praise from his quarterback in the post-practice pressers:

Deshaun Watson (on Jordan Thomas)

He adds everything. He can play outside, inside, blocking, short, intermediate routes, long. He has the size and the speed. He’s 6-6 and 255 pounds that can run a 4.5 or 4.6. He’s a guy that’s very talented and has so much potential. He’s been working, you can tell. He came back ready and prepared for this camp. He’s ready to go. Whenever he gets his opportunity, I’m definitely going to give him a shot. He’s been capitalizing on those.

It would seem Warring got a slightly later start than Thomas, but it’s hard to deny the collective will of the other players, coaches, and fans to see Warring succeed.

Bill O’Brien, on Warring (8.30.2020):

He’s improved. He’s in a battle, though. He’s a great guy. He works really hard. He’s still a young player. He’s got a lot of talent. He had a good practice last week, I think. He’s working really hard to get better and he’s right in the mix.

We’re working hard with him and we want him to succeed.

That’s a competitive position. You’ve got guys there that have played a lot of football in Fells and Akins, and then Jordan Thomas and Kahale are coming off of injury last year... it’s a competitive position.

It’s hard to imagine a world where a third round draft pick clears waivers and makes it to the practice squad, so if Houston has to cut Warring, odds are another team will snatch him up with the belief that they can succeed with him where the Texans failed. Thomas would also likely find another team quickly if the Texans cut him.

Decisions, decisions.

If we’d had a full preseason to watch and grade these players, it might be a slam dunk as to which one would get the coveted third tight end spot. Without those exhibition games, all we can do is wait and wonder.

The deadline to have rosters down to 53 men is this Saturday, September 5th at 3 p.m. CDT. We’re only one week away from the Texans’ season kicking off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, so the Turk will be making his rounds for sure.

Who do you think makes the list of Deshaun Watson’s 2020 tight end weapons?