Drafting a 26-year-old rookie tight-end in the 3rd round is a risky proposition. For fans to trust such a high pick, immediate production is due. Though Akins didn’t give that immediate production, he was certainly a valuable commodity for a Texans offense lacking depth at the ‘playmaker’ position.
Although, Jordan Akins box-score stats weren’t bad. He had a lot of big plays, which gave him an above average yard per reception metric for a tight end.
If you aren’t a fan of traditional box-score stats, his more advanced stats are pretty impressive despite a lack of quantity.
|Targets||Catch rate||YAC||Passer rating when targeted||Snap share||Drops|
These stats show that Akins was a valuable receiving asset when he was on the field. Not only did quarterback Deshaun Watson have an above league average passer rating when passing to Akins, but Akins also failed to drop the ball and created significant yards after the catch.
The high catch rate and yards after catch are what could have expected for the rookie tight end. His niche while at UCF was that of a substantially bigger wide receiver (6’4″, 250 lbs) playing tight end that could run well develop routes and create yards after the catch. In the NFL, that holds.
That precise route running was shown in limited quantities during his rookie season. Below is an example of Akins refined route-running abilities.
Watch how he performs this out route well. Notice how quick his feet are while running the route; a trait that very few tight ends possess. He then shows off good body control to modify his body to catch a less than perfect throw. He then shifts his body to the ball and tracks it with his eyes, despite having to expose his body to a hard hit to do so. After, he finishes the play by falling forward – an underrated aspect of any receivers game.
Those same quick-pivoting feet are notable again on the play below. He’s running a simple five-yard ‘in’ route. For the play to be successful, Akins needs to cut precisely five yards in. Why? Because the play is a mesh concept, meaning the timing of crossing routes by Akins and Hopkins need to be perfect. Akins performs the cross well, with quick-pivoting feet exactly five-yards in – which in turn, get him wide open.
Of course, the ability to run after the catch is also prevalent on the play above. His field vision field, loose hips, speed, and power are all pluses that let him flourish after the catch. Again, I love his tendency to fall forward and fight when going down.
The play above is undoubtedly impressive regarding his ability with the ball in his hands. Not only is he exceptionally fast for his size, but he also is agile enough to avoid a tackle, then has the vision to read and react to his blocks downfield. His blend of power, size, speed, agility, and open-field-vision make him a weapon going forward with his career.
Watch how Akins uses his speed to blow past cover 2 zone with a simple wheel route below. Though the defender doesn’t offer much fight, Akins is still able to get past him and find a soft spot of cover 2 (top corner). It’s also worth noting that Akins performs the scramble well drill to come back to a scrambling Deshaun Watson for a huge first down.
By now you know that Akins possesses some good route running abilities, and is a threat with the ball in his hands. But he rarely had to catch a contested ball – which could be both a positive and negative. It’s positive because he doesn’t need to contest catches due to route-running that gets him open. Negative because it gives me an incomplete report on Akins (I’m greedy). Despite the lack of contested catch tape, I would grade his game as a true receiving tight-end at a B+. His route running, speed, power, field vision, and common knowledge is excellent for a rookie tight end.
Of course, receiving isn’t what makes up a tight end. Blocking also plays a key aspect; it’s also the reason why Akins’ final grade stands at a B-.
His poor blocking doesn’t come from a lack of willingness. For the most part, he executes his blocks. The problem comes from his stance, pad-level, and hand technique. Though these aren’t new issues; he was a poor blocking tight end in UCF as well.
Watch how Akins his pad-level is very high; he’s hardly squatting. That high pad-level gives the defensive back leverage, which helps him shrug off Akins. If the defensive back were substituted for an edge rusher, Akins would have been demolished. That high pad-level and slow hands are seen over and over again in his blocking tape.
Poor run-blocking is what takes Akins off the field. He does a solid job providing chip blocks in pass protection, but without consistent run-blocking, he becomes a liability. It also means that when he is on the field, the defense notes that play is most likely a pass as they doubt an Akins appearance on run plays.
Akins isn’t a massive human being like fellow rookie tight end Jordan Thomas (who can bulldoze defenders). Therefore I would like to see more of an improve the technical aspect of his blocking. Working on footwork, hand technique, and stance would pay dividends this off-season concerning an increased snap count for Jordan Akins.
Jordan Akins is far from a finished product. But, he has the tools to do so. He needs to work as a blocker. But his upside as a receiving tight end is tremendous. In a pass-heavy league, a receiving tight end is essential, meaning I still give Akins a passing grade despite his run-blocking struggles.
Final grade: B-