Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Locher/AP/Shutterstock (13489109bb) Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins makes a catch during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas Texans Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Akins was the highest-drafted tight end in UCF history.
Jordan Akins is not your typical five-year NFL veteran. Akins is now 30 years old, a significant marker for most NFL players. He started his NFL career late, having tried his hand at professional baseball first.
When Akins graduated high school, he decided to play football for UCF over schools like LSU and Georgia. His decision changed when the Texas Rangers drafted him in the 3rd round of the MLB draft. He chose to try his hand at professional baseball rather than play college football.
After four years toiling in the minor leagues, struggling to hit, and never getting above high-A ball, Akins left baseball and went back to UCF to play college football.
Before his senior season in 2017 at UCF, Akins was named to the John Mackey Award watch list, an award given annually to the most outstanding tight end in college football. He finished the season with 32 receptions for 515 yards and 4 TDs in 11 games for the Knights.
His athleticism, abilities as a receiver, and strong performance in the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl (on a team that happened to be coached by then-Texans head coach Bill O’Brien) led the Texans to take him in the third round of the 2018 draft despite having a sixth-round draft grade. Houston thought they had a diamond in the rough.
Akins dressed for all 16 games as a rookie, with 17 receptions for 225 yards, while splitting time with fellow 2018 draftee Jordan Thomas as the backup to Ryan Griffin.
In 2019, Akins improved to 36 catches for 418 yards and two scores while effectively splitting time with longtime NFL veteran TE Darren Fells. His 418 yards receiving were fourth on the team and the most of any non-wide receiver.
His timeshare with Fells continued in 2020, and his production was about the same in about the same amount of opportunities. He had 37 receptions for 403 yards and a touchdown, again finishing fourth on the team in receiving yards and first among the non-wide receivers.
2021 was a different story, however. Akins was now part of a three-headed tight-end group with veteran Pharaoh Brown and rookie Brevin Jordan. He saw fewer snaps and fewer targets. His production fell to 24 catches and 214 yards while the Texans meandered through Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills under center in a season that was lost before it ever began. He fell to seventh on the team in receiving yards, and now off his rookie contract, the team decided not to resign him after the season.
Akins would sign with the New York Giants in the offseason but was released by the team prior to the start of the season. Akins returned to the Texans as a member of the practice squad, hoping to get another shot with the team, but was fourth on the depth chart behind Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan, and newly signed O.J. Howard.
Akins kept his head high and worked as hard as he could. Cliché, but true. When Jordan was sidelined with an ankle injury, Akins was activated from the practice squad. In his first game with the Texans this year, Akins had three receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown Week 3 against the Bears. Akins made an immediate impact.
He was also activated the next two weeks, with Jordan remaining sidelined, and after three weeks of being activated from the practice squad, the Texans had to either sign him or release him. Akins had earned a shot to stay with the team for the rest of the year and was signed to the main roster.
In his first game of the season with a contract guaranteed, Akins was the Texans leading receiver, with three catches for 68 yards, including a 39-yard catch and run to convert a third down. Akins had a terrific one-handed catch going to the sideline as well.
Akins has shown the athleticism and pass-catching ability that once sold the Texans on drafting him higher than expected. It may have taken five years, but the dividends are now paying off for him and the Texans.
Akins’ play on the field has established him as the team’s top pass-catching tight end and de facto TE 1. While he may not be TE 1 on the team’s depth chart (he’s still listed 3rd behind Jordan and Howard), he’s clearly the guy receiving the most targets.
Brevin Jordan had a tough game, failing to catch any of his four targets. One target saw Jordan not turn around to look for the ball on a critical third down in the red zone. Another saw a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown late in the game. Howard, meanwhile, did not even see a target. Akins’ strong play stood out even more in this game as a result.
Perhaps five years later, Akins has become the player the Texans once foresaw him to be.