Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans 2020 Offseason Position Preview: Tight Ends

Darren Fells was a revelation at tight end for the first half of 2019.
Darren Fells was a revelation at tight end for the first half of 2019. Photo by Eric Sauseda
If there was a "tentpole" moment for the tight end position group during the Bill O'Brien Era, a moment or game where the need for drastic change was accentuated and driven home, it was Week 1 of the horrific 2017 season. In that post-Harvey 29-7 blowout at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars, all three Texan tight ends on the depth chart — C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, and Stephen Anderson — were all concussed and knocked out of the game.

By the time the 2018 draft rolled around, Fiedorowicz was retired, Anderson was long since released, and Griffin's time was winding down, as the Texans decided to draft not one, but two rookie tight ends in the 2018 draft, Jordan Akins from UCF and Jordan Thomas from Mississippi State. The complete overhaul was done by the end of 2018, with Griffin released shortly after the season ended.

Now comes 2020, and the tight end group is one of the more intriguing groups on the team. Here are three burning Texan questions on the tight end position:

Do the Texans bring back free agent Darren Fells?
When you're in the phase of roster construction that the Texans are about to enter, specifically doling out a $40 million per year deal to a franchise quarterback, you need to find veteran guys on the margin that you can bring in for minimum or near minimum dollars. On defense, that guy was probably safety Jahleel Addae, and on offense in 2019, that guy was Fells. Fells was brought in on a one year, $1.5 million deal, largely for his blocking ability. However, he showed a great knack for watching the football, particularly in the red zone, where he set a team record for touchdown catches by a tight end with seven. Fells struggled to maintain consistency in the second half of the season, with a few drops along the way, but he was still a massive bargain. At age 34, he is probably the tight end version of Carlos Hyde — a solid veteran coming off an outlier season. If his price stays reasonable, Fells should be back in 2020.

Can Kahale Warring be a poor man's Kelce or Kittle?
The mystery man on the tight end depth chart is Warring, who, other than a few practices in training camp, didn't see any time once training camp began in late July. When he did get on the field in practice, his consistency was an issue, but you could see that the guy is a SUPREME level of athlete (like Kittle or Kelce, both middle round picks in their respective draft classes). Warring has a multipart background, having played water polo growing up, and having arrived relatively late to football. If he can channel his athletic ability and get his arms around the playbook, the opportunity is there for Warring to seize the day and displace one of the incumbents, likely Jordan Thomas, on the depth chart.

Do they draft a tight end (again)?
The Texans have used three third round picks in the last two drafts on tight ends, so it's doubtful that they would use the 57th overall pick or their third round pick on a tight end. I'd venture to say that, if they are going "best available" player, it would have to BEST in ALL CAPS for the pick to be a tight end, even in the later rounds. If they did decide to look at a tight end, a few names to keep an eye on —- Thaddeus Moss of LSU (O'Brien coached his father, Randy, as the WR coach in New England), Jared Pinkney of Vanderbilt, or Colby Parkinson of Stanford.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast