The Texans are hoping the combination of third-round pick Kahale Warring and second-year veterans Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins will develop into their best group of tight ends during the Bill O’Brien era.
Since O’Brien became the head coach in 2014, the Texans have used three third-round picks on tight ends, but they’re still looking for someone to challenge Owen Daniels as the best in franchise history.
Warring follows Akins and C.J. Fiedorowicz (2014) as third-round selections since O’Brien was hired.
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No tight end has come close to providing the productivity and consistency Daniels did.
A fourth-round pick in 2006, Daniels averaged 51 catches and 623 yards over a seven-year period, including two that ended with injuries. He produced the most prolific season for a tight end in 2008 when he had 70 catches for 862 yards.
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As a group, the best year for Texans’ tight ends was 2016 when Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson combined for 115 receptions for 1,094 yards and seven touchdowns.
Compare that production with last season when Griffin, Akins and Thomas combined for 61 catches, 745 yards and four touchdowns — all by Thomas — and it’s easy to see why Darren Fells was signed and Warring was drafted.
In their 18-year draft history, the Texans have drafted one tight end higher than the third round, Bennie Joppru in 2003. He had no catches in three injury-plagued seasons.
Warring might be the most athletic of the 11 tight ends the Texans have drafted. He’s 6-5, 255 and runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.6s. He played basketball, soccer, water polo and tennis before trying football his last year in high school.
Warring walked on at San Diego State and played in a run-oriented system that required him to block. That willingness to block combined with talent for the position got the Texans’ attention even though they weren’t looking to draft a tight end.
The Texans had Griffin, Akins, Thomas and Fells. With Warring replacing Griffin, who was released two weeks ago, tight end figures to be one of the most competitive positions on the roster.
Warring is a fascinating prospect. Because he played football one year in high school and started only five games in college, it would be unfair to expect immediate results. Still, the coaches are intrigued about his ability, work ethic and improvement as an NFL prospect.
“Everything’s new to him,” O’Brien said during the OTAs. “He hasn’t played a lot of football relative to some of the other guys. I’m not talking about the veterans. I’m talking about the young players. (He) didn’t start playing football until later on in his life relative to his career, so I think he learns every day. He’s attacking it the right way.”
O’Brien and his coaches like what they’ve seen from Warring during the rookie minicamp and OTAs. As they approach their last week of OTAs and the mandatory minicamp, they’re eager to see more of him.
“(He) comes in early and stays late and learns very well,” O’Brien said. “Very athletic, works hard. (Tight ends coach) Will Lawing’s doing a good job with all of those guys of meeting extra and getting them up to speed.”
Warring is a fascinating prospect because of his multisport background.
“All those different sports helped me become a better athlete, which converts over to football because you have to be a really good athlete to play football,” Warring said. “I think basketball transitions the best.”
Warring didn’t get his quick, strong hands from just playing basketball. He starred as a goaltender in water polo.
“It takes athleticism (and) hand-eye coordination, a lot of toughness in the game (and) I think it helped a ton,” he said.
In his 19 games, including five starts, at San Diego State, Warring caught 51 passes for 637 yards and eight touchdowns. His best season was 2018 when, as a junior, he had 31 receptions for 372 yards and three touchdowns.
“I learned a ton at San Diego State,” he said. “I think that program helped a lot coming into the NFL. Pro-style offense and everything helped a ton.”
Warring said he watched NFL tight ends and mentioned Zach Ertz and Jimmy Graham.
“I study tight ends,” he said. “I watch every single one that I hear about. I see what they do well, and I try to do the things they do well. That’s something that helps me in my game.”
In the offensive system he played in, Warring had no choice but to block if he wanted to get on the field. That part of his game impressed the Texans.
“It’s just about being willing,” he said. “I think you have to be willing to be a blocker, put in the effort and put your face on somebody.”
Warring elected to enter the draft rather than return to college for his senior season.
“I wanted to get pushed and take the next step because I felt I was capable of it,” he said. “I thought I could become a better player being in an NFL locker room and getting pushed even more.”
And one teammate who’s pushing him is quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“He’s a great leader,” Warring said. “He’s in my ear talking to me. It’s awesome. I talk to him about different ways to keep learning, and he’s a huge help.”
Warring is also getting help from the veterans at his position.
“All the tight ends are helping me so well,” he said. “They’re a huge help. They’re great role models, and I’m happy to be in this room.”