David J. Phillip/Associated Press
C.J. Fiedorowicz and Garrett Graham will play different roles despite being listed at the same position, and both will be on the field for most offensive snaps, but who will be listed as the first tight end on the depth chart might not be a lock.
Graham had a great season last year with limited playing time. Despite only playing 13 games, starting just 11 due to injury and being behind Owen Daniels before Daniels got hurt, Graham still finished 2013 with career highs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Graham's stat line of 49 receptions, 545 yards and five touchdowns may not be eye-popping, but as I pointed out in a previous article for Bleacher Report, his per-game average in those stats after the injury to Daniels multiplied out over a full season would have put him near the top at the position.
Taking his per-game average in that time period of four receptions for 50 yards, he'd end up 64 receptions for 800 yards over a full 16-game season—good enough for the top 10 among tight ends in both stats.
Saying all that, it seems hard to believe that a rookie third-round pick could take Graham's spot this year, but Fiedorowicz has much higher upside.
Fiedorowicz has better size and physical talent than the other tight ends, is a better blocker than the other tight ends and could potentially develop into a better receiver than the other tight ends.
From P.D. Starr of State of the Texans, Fiedorowicz has played well during training camp but is still working on parts of his game that weren't used while at Iowa.
He is a polished inline blocker and has a chance to become a better pass catcher. His pass catching is not the issue, it is the fine tuning of his route running that needs work. If Fiedorowicz keeps blocking the way he has been in the first two day of pads, he will be finding more snaps when gamedays arrive.
At worst, Fiedorowicz will be lined up as the inline tight end or "Y" receiver with Graham ahead of him as the starter. Fiedorowicz is already a better blocker than Graham, so only his development as a receiver will hold him back and prevent him from moving ahead of Graham on the depth chart.
The former Iowa tight end has better hands and ability after the catch than most give him credit for possessing. Bill O'Brien saw that skill set during the Texans' workout of Fiedorowicz before the draft, and draft analysts like Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com also saw reason to believe he could develop into a great receiving tight end.
Surprising lower-body flexibility to sink his hips to run sharp-angle routes. Has stature and enough speed to threaten the seam. Understands how to use his frame and physicality to create subtle separation. Makes athletic hands catches off his frame. Sizable catch radius. Shows toughness and concentration in traffic. Lowers his shoulder to deliver a blow after the catch.
Graham is a good player and deserves to have a large role on this team, but it's only a matter of time before Fiedorowicz moves ahead of him on the depth chart. How quickly that happens will depend on how soon Fiedorowicz tightens up his route running and learns the offense.