I started off this project meaning to do a piece on diminutive slot receivers, hoping to build a case that the Texans will draft just such a player in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.
Instead, as I dug through Bill O’Brien’s coaching history, my attention was drawn to the prominence of the Tight End position in O’Brien’s system. This prominence is illustrated in the following table, which lists the reception leaders during the most recent five years of O’Brien’s career:
Bill O’Brien was head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2013 and 2012; offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in 2011; and he was QB coach for the Patriots in 2010 and 2009. For the past four seasons, Tight Ends have been two out of the top five reception leaders on the team.
Maybe this peek into O’Brien’s recent past can give Texans fans a clue as to what may be in store in the upcoming draft, especially when you consider the Tight Ends on the current Texans roster:
Garrett Graham is the most experienced of the bunch, with 49 receptions in 2013, and Ryan Griffin has potential but minimal experience. Based upon this roster, I’d expect O’Brien to want more competition at a position that has such importance in his scheme, if recent history is any indication.
So which Tight Ends could the Texans be targeting this year in the draft?
The following are offered up for consideration:
1st Day (Round 1): Eric Ebron (North Carolina) – even if the Texans trade down in the 1st round, I don’t expect them to spend a pick on Ebron, though he is a gifted prospect who has a chance to be an impact player right away.
2nd Day (Rounds 2 & 3): Jace Amaro (Texas Tech); Troy Niklas (Notre Dame); and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) – Amaro is the best receiver prospect of this group, with excellent size, measurables and soft hands. Niklas has great size and athleticism, but is a relatively inexperienced receiver, having only played the position 2 years. Many folks have ASJ highly graded, but I have some doubts about ultimate potential. Considering the Texans’ many needs, I’d be surprised if they used a Day 2 pick on a Tight End.
3rd Day (Rounds 4 through 7): Arthur Lynch (Georgia); Marcel Jensen (Fresno State); Jordan Navjar (Baylor); Crockett Gilmore (Colorado State) – Are there more TE’s available in these rounds? Sure, but this group is composed of several players with good size and receiving abilities. Lynch is smooth and a team leader, with good measurables but questionable hands at times. Jensen has excellent size and functional speed, is a willing blocker, but was not featured in his team’s offense. Navjar is another big TE, but is not as fast as the others and lined up in unusual positions (such as the backfield) at times this past season. Gilmore is a real sleeper to keep an eye on; good athleticism and production, though not as strong as one may prefer.
After researching Bill O’Brien’s recent coaching experience, it’s apparent to me that the Tight End will likely be prominently featured in his offense, if he has the talent to work with. I expect we’ll see the Texans try to upgrade that talent during the upcoming NFL Draft.