Boddy-Calhoun! Fells! It’s free-agent scraps time in Houston!

OK, OK, it’s a bit of a mean headline. You try getting someone to click on a Briean Boddy-Calhoun post without resorting to sarcasm.

The Texans have signed two players since I last used my keyboard. Darren Fells, a blocking tight end providing reliable second-string work, signed Monday. On Friday, Houston reeled in Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who has played both corner and safety. Boddy-Calhoun was not tendered as a restricted free agent this offseason. That was a bit of a surprise to some outside observers, given how many snaps Boddy-Calhoun had played for the Browns the last few years.

In short, they’re both good depth signings, but I don’t know that either of them changes the calculus in Houston.

Boddy-Calhoun will push Aaron Colvin in the slot

Boddy-Calhoun went undrafted out of Minnesota after picking off nine passes and deflecting 15 other passes in his final two seasons with the Golden Gophers. The combine was not as kind. Boddy-Calhoun’s 40-yard dash of 4.47 wasn’t dominant for a slight corner and his 7.16 three-cone drill time was awful. It placed him in the seventh percentile of all corners at the combine.

Signed by the Jags as an undrafted free agent, the Browns claimed Boddy-Calhoun at last cuts in 2016. Thrown immediately into the fire in 2016, given seven starts, he did not succeed. He allowed a staggering 9.9 yards per pass that season per Sports Info Solutions. Only five players with more targets than his 49 allowed worse than that.
Boddy-Calhoun’s 2018 season was one of massive usage in some games and zero usage in others. His frame made him a poor underneath zone tackler against running backs — he gave up big plays to both James Conner and Jalen Richard in the first month. He was mostly used in zone and does have good get-off when he recognizes what’s going on underneath.

Where Boddy-Calhoun struggled the last few years was in man coverage when given separation moves. Here’s an example against the Bengals where Tyler Boyd dusts him for separation within the route.

Going back to the three-cone drill time, this is the kind of short-area quickness ball that is difficult for him. A better change-of-direction player would at least get closer to it. I also watched him take an absurdly long route to Daesean Hamilton against the Broncos in Week 15 by going over a moving pick rather than under it.

Here’s Boddy-Calhoun succeeding in man, against the Raiders on fourth down:

It was a bad throw, but the route itself was well-read and defensed. This is where Boddy-Calhoun excels. When the route stays stagnant after he and the defender meet, he usually stays with it pretty well.

Then, here’s Boddy-Calhoun on Mike Evans from safety. The play was downhill, and he read it well:

In short, this is a very Texans signing. Boddy-Calhoun’s got a lot of experience in zone, he plays downhill when he diagnoses something. He does delay a bit on some routes because he would rather not get beat deep. I would say he’s a better safety than a corner, but he’s undersized for either position. He’s a worthy challenger to Colvin in the slot, but not someone who will hold up to a season’s worth of man-coverage targets.

Darren Fells: the pass-blocker the Texans didn’t know they needed

Fells came into the league undrafted, because he was a basketball player. Undrafted by the NBA out of UC-Irvine, Fells went around Europe for many different teams before getting a tryout with the Seahawks. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound frame had a lot to do with how many chances he got, signing on to the Arizona practice squad in 2014 and becoming their No. 2 tight end behind Jermaine Gresham. One year with the Lions was enough for the Browns to give him a three-year, $12 million contract. The Browns released him after one season.

Fells was Cleveland’s No. 2 tight end by snaps last year, beating out the more-acclaimed Seth DeValve.

Houston’s tight ends were abysmal at blocking last season, but I don’t know that I’d say that Fells is an answer on the ground. He doesn’t get much push and he can get clowned around by some mediocre linemen. I saw Brent Urban stack-and-shed him to get a loss on Carlos Hyde in Week 5, and I saw this from Week 4:

That’s Frostee Rucker, who has been in the NFL almost as long as the Texans have existed. Not exactly a murderer’s row. Though at the same time, those were both head-up blocks on defensive ends. That’s not exactly an easy play to make for a tight end, even if Fells does outweigh some of them. There’s truth in the idea that at least Fells was trusted to make that kind of block in the first place.

I’m more sanguine about this being an upgrade on passing downs. Fells showed some good reps in that last year:

That’s a star edge rusher getting locked down by a tight end. This wasn’t the only time I saw Fells lock someone of that caliber up, either.

Fells’ technique is pretty good as a pass blocker, he’s just a stiff mover. You want him starting from an angle or otherwise not having to chase a rusher to the edge. When Fells wins the hand battle, it’s over. He’s clearly quite powerful.

I see this signing as more of an indictment on Ryan Griffin than anyone. He’s the veteran meant to bridge the Texans to Jordan Akins’ readiness. Akins’ blocking in his first season needed a lot of work. But I maintain hope for him as a weapon in 2019, at least assuming he’s not crowded out of the targets picture. The real question becomes: Is this team going to carry four tight ends on gameday? If not, who is the main man out? Not the two 2018 rookies, right?

I think a good team develops their own Fells and never has to bring in one in free agency, but this is a good reaction signing to a position of need. I’d have rather spent the roster spot on someone a little younger, like Jacob Hollister, but we do know that Fells can block. The Texans have at least guaranteed they have someone who can do that next year, assuming health.

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