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Houston Sports and Stuff is beginning its coverage of the Houston Texans’ 2017 season by breaking down all the position groups in an 8-part series leading up to the start of training camp.
In the third installment, we look at the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends.
There is an old saying in football, “pass to score and run to win.” The Texans will need to improve their passing game to score more points and so they can win with their ground game. While improved quarterback play is a big part of that, the pass catchers had a down year in 2016 as well. That starts with top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins bouncing back from a season that raised concerns about his effort and ability. His decline in numbers could be placed at the feet of a quarterback who is no longer on the team, but watching the game tape revealed something lacking. If one is to think that the effort was there; then there appeared to be a weaknesses in Hopkins ability to go after tough catches. He is in the process of seeking a new contract and must play hard to earn his value. I would not be surprised if he returns to his 2015 numbers and earns top tier wide receiver money.
Behind him are several options. The more visible of those are Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. Fuller was drafted to be a speedy deep threat and in his first year he showed flashes of that ability. But he struggled with drops. If he has done enough work in the offseason to correct that, he will add a much-needed dimension to the offense. Miller on the other hand is a converted college quarterback and is still finding his footing as a receiver. He was known for being dynamic with the ball in his hand and if he can become a solid possession receiver over the middle he will be able to showcase more of his talent.
Jalen Strong had a decent rookie season, catching 3 touchdowns and averaging 11.5 yards per reception but didn’t improve in year 2. He could be on the bubble this year and that competition could come from one of seven practice squad players and undrafted rookies. The practice squad players are Dres Anderson and Wendall Williams. The undrafted rookies are Deante Gray, Justin Hardee, Shaq Hill, Riley McCarron, and Chris Thompson.
Because there is so little to go on for these players, it is difficult to determine who will threaten out of this group. The practice squad players have been in training camps before and despite bouncing from multiple teams, there is always a chance they make a depth position to help the special teams. From the undrafted rookies, there might be a few gems. Chris Thompson was an all-purpose player at the University of Florida and Shaq Hill put up some big numbers in his last season at Eastern Washington University. These two seem like they might have enough upside to make the team as the last of the 5 or 6 receivers to make the final roster.
The tight end situation is a little easier behind incumbent players Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz. The Texans are bringing in four other players to compete for roster spots. It wouldn’t be a surprise to keep at least three tight ends either. That leaves these four practice squad and undrafted rookies to compete for one roster spot. It should be a wide open competition between second year players RaShaun Allen and Stephen Anderson. Diversifying their options with youth, they signed converted quarterback Zach Conque from Stephen F. Austin State University and Evan Baylis.
Baylis saw only limited action in college and Conque is learning a new position so there is more likely a chance for Anderson or Allen making the roster. They will have to work hard to prove themselves, but the tight end position as a whole needs some improvement. Fiedorowicz has yet to break out as a serious pass catcher and the blocking that was his strong suit in college is still a little behind in the NFL. Griffin is the better pass catcher, but his blocking needs improvement. If one of these two can become a true every down player, the middle of the field should open up.
A lot of the young players listed above will make up the special teams unit for the Texans and that is where they should work the hardest. There are several speedy players in this group and maybe one will become a return man and the others will be solid tacklers. Special teams is critical to field position and a few of these guys may get on the roster because of it. As for the top of the depth chart; the top three receivers and top two tight ends seems pretty set; the rest will be interesting to keep an eye on.
Read the prior installments of Texans roster preview