When the Texans third third-round selection was, uh, announced on social media a few minutes ahead of the actual announcement on NFL Network/Fox/ESPN, a few things hit me right off the bat.
- The senior bowl just paid off.
- There were other more well-known tight ends on the board so fans/analysts would complain
- The Texans just drafted one heck of an athlete who grew/matured into a fabulous college tight end.
Okay, so that's a lot to think of all at once, but it really all went through my head when Jordan Akins was selected with the 98th pick in the draft. Let's take a walk through each one at a time.
When the Texans decided to coach the south squad at the senior bowl, I was convinced that they would use that experience to draft/sign at least one player. Given the fact that the Texans could see how each player reacted to coaching, retained knowledge in the meetings and prepared like a professional, it was a sign that they really liked those aspects in Akins.
Check out photos of the Texans 98 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jordan Akins.
Secondly, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews was still on the board and he was a well-known name in these parts, given his proximity to Houston. Reflective in post-draft day grades and comments made by many, the Texans selection was met with derision because they didn't select Andrews or another south team tight end, Indiana's Ian Thomas.
Third, now let's get to the most important aspect, Akins himself. He's a former professional baseball player who spent four years in the minor league. The fact that he played for the Texas Rangers, notwithstanding, he was able to utilize those skills in pass catching, especially the deep ball. Playing centerfield, there's no better skill than that of tracking a ball in the outfield. Keeping that in mind, Akins learned how to track the football down the field and react accordingly. As such, he became a true deep downfield threat for the Knights. He caught 32 passes for 515 yards, a 16 yard-per-catch average.
I had seen a few games of him making those big plays down the field, but one thing stood out to me, in addition, that I thought might add even more context to his selection.
This is a 1st-and-10 play against Cincinnati in the second quarter with UCF ahead 30-13. QB McKenzie Milton had been rolling up to that point. But to start the drive the Knights came out in a Bandit formation (twins to one side and pro alignment to the other - that's my nomenclature - thanks Coach Ackerman). Akins was aligned as the in-line Y tight end. Wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith was out wide to the left and then went in motion toward Akins.
On the snap, Akins just released flat down the line of scrimmage. He didn't get any depth to his route. Milton faked the handoff to freeze the edge defender and keep him from getting in the path of his throw to Akins.
Cincinnati appeared to be in quarters coverage on the play, which essentially put the two defensive backs on that side on Smith and Akins. The safety read the throw immediately and pursued inside out.
The throw wasn't quite where Milton wanted and Akins had to turn his body to catch the ball before getting up-field. So, he had the ball about a yard and a half behind the line of scrimmage when he turned up-field.
Then, the fun began. As a safety, you don't expect a guy of his size to run past you or around you. Just get into his legs and hang on for the tackle. But, Akins isn't just some tight end. He squared up the safety while leaning to the outside. Yet, the safety was in perfect position.
Was, being the operative word. Akins gave him a little shake move to the outside, then, like a receiver, darted back inside once he had frozen the safety.
He easily slipped the safety and then sprinted back out to the sideline, with some help from Smith ("No block, no rock!").
Akins sprinted up the sideline for an 18-yard gain. That simple play, a play-action flat toss turned into a significant gain because of Akins' agility, quickness and speed.
Jordan Akins, the best center fielder turned tight end in this, and many other, draft classes.