[EDITOR’S NOTE: WE ARE ASKING EACH OF OUR JOCKS TO DECIDE IF A BUBBLE PLAYER FOR THE HOUSTON TEXANS IS GOING TO MAKE THE CUT AND BE ON TEAM’S 53-MAN ROSTER OR MISS THE CUT AND BE CUT BY THE TEAM. THE NINTH OF THE SERIES IS BY MATT HAMMOND – FILLING IN ON GALLANT AT NIGHT 7P-11P THIS WEEK – ON TIGHT END STEPHEN ANDERSON]
To say the Houston Texans tight end position has been disappointing under head coach Bill O’Brien is woefully understating it.
To put it this way: in 2015, Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin combined for 41 catches, 448 yards and three touchdowns. Or, about the output that O’Brien forecast for Andre Johnson last offseason, when he told him he needed more production from a single player.
Enter Stephen Anderson.
Anderson’s case for making the team is in part a function of his ability. He’s only 6’2, but possesses remarkable athleticism for the position — check out his broad and long jump numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine; impressive — and the versatility to play something of a hybrid wide receiver/tight end role. Not a whole lot different from 2015 first rounder Devin Funchess of the Carolina Panthers. Or from what Anderson did at Cal last season when he posted 41 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns — by himself. (Imagine?)
What you see there, I don’t know that the Texans have ever had that. That’s not a shot at Owen Daniels or even Graham, both of whom were varying degrees of solid in their time here. But even if Daniels and Graham were at times good, Anderson has a chance to be different, creating matchup problems for defenses that he — and Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller — can exploit.
But there’s also big picture stuff at play here. To put it simply: the incumbents at the position haven’t performed for two years now. Anderson, who has been the “Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere” of training camp, has over the course of only a few weeks. While Fiedorowicz (primarily a blocker) and Griffin (primarily a receiver) are pretty much locks to make the 53, Anderson (who can do a little of both) will make the team over Anthony Denham and Eric Tomlinson, and fans won’t be the only ones taking notice.
We saw on HBO “Hard Knocks” last year that O’Brien and GM Rick Smith will use roster cuts as a way to make statements to the team. When Louis Nix was cut last year, that was, “Don’t get comfy, no matter who you are.” With Anderson, who I do think makes the team, that’s, “Everybody here has a real chance of making the 53, no matter who you are.” It’s one thing when a player like Charles James II makes the squad — that’s mostly for his work on special teams, and has little to do with his ability as a cornerback. If Anderson does, however, he’ll be getting a shot to contribute at his primary position, despite being an undrafted free agent. A move like that, while it obviously has the chance to make an impact on the field, will resonate throughout the locker room during future training camps. If Stephen Anderson can make the team, then dammit, so can I!
It sounds hokey, but that culture of accountability and meritocracy matters. Not just for this season, but for every season where O’Brien is the coach.
So in the end, yes, I do think Anderson makes the team — and makes an impact in 2016.