HOUSTON (AP) — At just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Tank Dell was plagued by doubters who thought his size would hold him back in the NFL.
Nine games into his rookie season, Dell is proving those critics wrong by emerging as one of Houston’s top receivers.
“It’s just extra motivation that made me walk around with two chips on my shoulder,” Dell said. “When I do get my chance to go out there and perform in front of the millions of people, I just try my best and do what I have to do, and God blesses me.”
Dell had a season-high 149 yards on eight receptions and set a franchise rookie record with his sixth touchdown catch in the Texans’ 21-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. It's the second time he's set the team rookie record for yards in a game; he had a 145-yard performance in Week 3.
He's second on the team with 659 yards receiving, despite missing one game with a concussion. With seven games left, he already ranks third among Houston rookies in that category, trailing Andre Johnson (976 yards in 2003) and DeAndre Hopkins (802 in 2013).
Nico Collins, who leads Houston with 696 yards receiving, has been impressed with his fellow wideout.
“Size don’t matter man, it’s about the heart, the mindset you’ve got,” Collins said. “Tank’s a dog and it continues to show and it’s only going to get better for him.”
The Texans traded up to nab Dell in the third round with the 69th pick after he had two straight 1,300-yard seasons to wrap up his career just down the road with the Houston Cougars. He caught 32 touchdowns in three years at Houston.
He believes his size caused him to fall to the third round and said on draft night that he wrote in his notes the names of every receiver drafted ahead of him.
He doesn’t have blazing speed, running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but he’s quick off the line of scrimmage and has a knack for getting open.
“I’m super proud to see the fruits of his labor pay off and he’s going to continue to do great things,” quarterback C.J. Stroud said. “He’s definitely a superstar in this league. He’s going to continue to show that. I’m really proud of that dude. He works his tail off every day.”
Stroud and Dell have become close friends and the quarterback said they’re always texting each other about plays and sharing little things that they think will help them improve.
Their highlight Sunday came when Stroud got a pass off under heavy pressure and found Dell in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown that made it 21-10 just before halftime.
“We just worked on that drill at practice — the scramble drill,” Dell said. “Basically like backyard football.”
Coach DeMeco Ryans was excited as he watched the play unfold.
“As I see C.J. rolling towards our sideline, I look up and I see Tank has a step on the defender,” Ryans said. “And when I see those two in a position to make a play, nine times out 10 Tank is coming down with that ball. As soon as I saw it leave C.J.’s hand, I knew it was a touchdown.”
Dell leaped into the crowd and was pulled into the stands, where he stood among a group of cheering fans.
“I was telling coach Ben (McDaniels), my receiver coach, that I was going to jump into the crowd if I got the opportunity to score a touchdown,” Dell said. “And it happened, and they wouldn’t let me up at first. My leg was like stuck off the side, but then they start scooting over when I got up there. It was fun.”
Dell doesn’t like talking about himself and often answers questions about his play by giving those around him credit. On Sunday, he said Stroud is a big reason for his success.
“Seven (Stroud), he’s the best player on the field every time he steps out there, man,” Dell said. “So it starts up front, but he puts it where it’s supposed to be and he does a great job at that.”
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