The Houston Texans have had one of the greatest passing attacks in the NFL over the past few seasons, thanks to in no small part to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and the receiving corps of the Texans. But playing perhaps the largest role for the Texans in this air assault is their outstanding group of tight ends.
Owen Daniels has been one of the most consistent receivers for the Texans since he came into the league in 2006. Twice he’s had more receptions and more first downs in a season than Johnson (2007 and 2011), and in 2011 he was the Texans’ leader in most receptions, most yards, and first downs.
Over the past 10 years (three of which Daniels was still in college), Daniels has the 10th most yards (4,365), 11th most receptions (361), 15th most touchdowns (26) and ninth most yards per game (45.9) of any NFL tight end. If you go by just the past five years he hops up to seventh in yards (3,245), ninth most receptions (264), 14th most touchdowns (18) and seventh most yards per game (49.9). That puts him up there with names like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski and Brent Celek.
However, due to his play style, Daniels is somewhat of a health risk. Last season was probably his second-best from a stats perspective, but almost every week he was battling a hamstring, hip, back, or shoulder problem that kept him from giving 100 percent. His injury history has even caused him to miss games, including the second half of 2009 (ACL) and five weeks of 2010 (hamstring). He’s only played in 99 out of a possible 117 games, including the postseason.
Behind Daniels the tight end depth drops off a little, as the position hasn’t been as stable as other positions for the Texans over the past five years. Joel Dressen played for the Texans from 2007 through 2011, but he played for the Denver Broncos last year. Dressen led the team in touchdown catches in 2011 and was a stout blocker.
Garrett Graham was drafted by the Texans in 2010 out of Daniels’ alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. In 2011 he appeared in seven games, and caught one pass for 24 yards. His 2012 was significantly better, though, as he started in nine games, caught 28 passes, and put up 263 yards on the way to three touchdowns. Over three seasons at Wisconsin he caught 121 passes for 1,492 yards and 16 touchdowns. He figures to be even more involved in the 2013 offense.
Ryan Griffin was drafted by Houston with the 201st pick in this year’s draft out of the University of Connecticut. He’s a four-year guy with good size (6-foot-6, 256 pounds) and good hands. Over four years he caught 116 passes for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expect him to play out of the trey (third tight end) position, and see significant time on special teams.
Jake Byrne is another Wisconsin guy and was signed by the Texans after the end of the 2012 season. He’s got good mobility for a big guy, but it looks like it’s practice squad or nothing for him (unless major injuries clear a spot).