Part four of our Texans offseason series looks at the team’s tight ends. Tight end can be a difficult position to evaluate from a roster standpoint as an outsider, because teams use tight ends in vastly different ways depending on the offense and the particular player. The Arizona Cardinals, for example, rarely use their tight ends in the passing game, and so focus on players who can block. When Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham were in their primes, the Chargers and Saints used them as the primary receiver and focus of the passing attack.
In that sense, it might be difficult to tell what the Texans intend to do or need to do. They have a well-rounded cast of tight ends, but none who really excel at anything.
- C.J. Fiedorowicz, 25, signed through 2017, $1,007,636 cap hit
- Stephen Anderson, 24, signed through 2018, $540,000 cap hit
- Rashaun Allen, 27, signed through 2018, $540,000 cap hit*
* unlikely to make active roster
- Ryan Griffin, 27, Unrestricted Free Agent, 2016 salary: $694,670
For the most part, the team rotated Fiedorowicz and Griffin last year, and neither one had a particularly specialized role. Both were favorite targets in the short passing game; neither one is a dynamic receiving threat. Fiedorowicz is a better blocker and was used more often on running plays.
Beyond that, Rashaun Allen was on the practice squad last year and is unlikely to make the active roster in 2017. However, last year’s undrafted rookie, Stephen Anderson, showed some flashes of receiving talent when he got a chance to play, and there’s a chance that, with Ryan Griffin entering free agency, the team lets him leave and gives Anderson a bigger role. While Fiedorowicz is more of a jack-of-all-trades tight end, Anderson is more a receiving specialist, and he could potentially be an important part of the passing game if he develops. It’s unclear whether the team will give him a bigger role in 2017, but I think it’s a good idea.
If the Texans are looking beyond Anderson for a dynamic receiver at the position, though, they have some options this offseason.
If they want a veteran, Martellus Bennett is probably the top free agent talent at the position, and he has receiving skills that the tight ends on the Texans’ roster don’t. Bennett is also a Houston native, having starred in football and basketball for Alief Taylor high school before choosing football full-time at Texas A&M. It may not be the exact fit the team is looking for, but perhaps Bennett will take a reasonable contract for a chance to play in his hometown.
The draft has several options for tight ends who fit the receiver mold. O.J. Howard of Alabama is the most talented of the tight end prospects, but he will likely be gone before the Texans have a chance to pick. More realistic options are Miami-FL’s David Njoku in the first round, Ole Miss’s Evan Engram in the second, or Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges in the third. Njoku in particular is a raw and young player but one who is expected to test off the charts athletically and who can block as well as catch. If he tests as well as expected at the scouting combine, he could even be a steal at the #25 overall selection. A possible day-three option in this vein is South Alabama’s Gerald Everett.
Two more names I like for more traditional tight ends: Clemson’s Jordan Leggett fits the physical profile and role of a traditional tight end asked to both catch and block, but he does both those things quite well and will likely be off the board by the end of day 2 of the draft. If the Texans want to try to land a steal and don’t mind waiting, Michigan’s Jake Butt was projected to be one of the top tight ends in this class until he tore his ACL during the Orange Bowl.
Where he once was expected to be a second-round pick, a fourth- or fifth-rounder is more likely now. If the Texans don’t mind waiting for him to heal (and taking the chance he does so), a late pick on Butt could turn into a valuable contributor in 2018 and beyond. With Fiedorowicz set to be a free agent in a year, this could be an appealing way to replace his production if he wants too much money on a new contract.
Looking at the roster, I expect the team to add at least one player at some point — even if it’s just re-signing Griffin, although I don’t think they’ll go out of their way to do that — and go into the season with Fiedorowicz, Anderson, and the new addition on the active roster in 2017.
What I don’t know is if that tight end will be a more well-rounded player who might be a candidate to replace Fiedorowicz down the line, or a receiver type to complement him. Either way, the position is an intriguing one to watch this offseason, as it feels like the Texans are going to have to make some kind of move there.
Ages are as of the 2017 season kickoff on September 7. Cap numbers are taken from spotrac.com.