March 17, 2018

Texans Acquire Akeem Dent: Impact on Linebacker Position Battles

As you’ve no doubt heard by now the Texans acquired former Falcons linebacker Akeem Dent in a trade that sent quarterback T.J. Yates to the Falcons. I was a bit surprised as the day before the Texans announced their intention to cut Yates, but before that move was finalized other teams who weren’t at the top of the waiver order apparently expressed interest in trading for the former fifth-round pick to guarantee they wouldn’t miss out.

The acquisition of Dent could turn out to be a low risk move with high potential impact considering the questions still surrounding the inside linebacker position for the Texans.

Coming into this offseason, the Texans had a huge need at inside linebacker after both Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton left as free agents. Factor in Pro Bowler Brian Cushing coming off a season ending knee injury for the second year in a row and I thought the Texans would target a player to strengthen the position early in the draft.

That’s not how the Texans approached the situation.

Instead, the Texans didn’t add an inside linebacker until they signed Max Bullough from Michigan State as an undrafted free agent. Bullough was a pretty good player in college and I think he’ll have a role on this team as a first and second down run defender, but he doesn’t have the necessary skill set to be an every down contributor.

So while Bullough could be a contributor and improve the depth at the position a little, his signing  didn’t change the overall strength of the position in my opinion. I like Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed as their starters, but even those two players have question marks surrounding their potential production this season. After that, the Texans have Justin Tuggle and Jeff Tarpinian who are expected to fill reserve roles but aren’t impact players.

The questions now are: What type of impact can Akeem Dent make and will he take the roster spot of one of the players I mentioned previously?

My gut reaction to whether or not he will be an impact player for the Texans is no. If the Falcons, who I wouldn’t call rich at the linebacker position, were willing to let him go in exchange for a backup quarterback then I doubt they viewed him as capable of being that type of player.

Akeem Dent played the middle linebacker spot in the Falcons 4-3 defense under Mike Nolan and will stay inside as an inside linebacker in the Texans 3-4 defense under Romeo Crennel. Was Dent a bad fit in the 4-3, is that perhaps why the Falcons decided to let him go?

Rob Rang of CBS Sports believed in his 2011 draft profile of Dent that his best fit would be as a 4-3 middle linebacker and had concerns about how well he’d be able to take on blockers one-on-one at the NFL level.

Dent established himself as a legit NFL prospect with a superior senior season, recording 126 tackles and earning second-team All SEC. At the next level, Dent is perhaps a best fit as a 4-3 middle ‘backer in a one-gap scheme, but has potential in other alignments as well.

Quality tackler with good form. Hustles with intensity every play. Smart in the classroom, durable – top intangibles.

Is a bit small and narrow framed for ILB, built more like a traditional NFL 4-3 OLB. Does not have truly elite wheels, and may have more difficulty in coverage at the next level. Can disengage, but gives up ground doing so. Not well suited to consistently engage NFL offensive linemen.

How has that scouting report materialized once Akeem Dent got to the NFL?

Pro Football Focus in a writeup about the Falcon’s team needs before the 2013 season characterized Dent as havingshowed some promise in run defense, playing more than 550 snaps in his second season, but failed to make an impact in the passing game, as he struggled in coverage and proved to be an ineffective blitzer.

Akeem Dent is similar to other inside linebackers on the Texans roster in that they play the run pretty well but struggle in pass coverage. In my opinion, the addition of Dent won’t make a big impact but does improve their depth. Solid move, but nothing to start printing playoff tickets over.

The last question remaining is assuming that Dent makes the roster, what other inside linebacker just lost his job?

Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed

Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed

I think the Texans will keep five or six inside linebackers. Probably the latter because I think they’ll keep more linebackers than normal and less defensive linemen due to how often they plan to play in sub and nickel packages. Plus, linebackers typically make good special teams players which gives them extra value.

Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed are obvious locks to make the roster. After that, the newly acquired Akeem Dent, Justin Tuggle and Jeff Tarpinian are also solid bets to make the final 53. That’s five, meaning the last spot if they do keep six, would come down to Max Bullough and Mike Mohamed in my opinion.

Bullough and Mohamed both had a great chance to make the roster before the addition of Dent, but now I think it’s a lock that at least one of the two if not both will be waived before the season starts.

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