Tank Dell makes acrobatic touchdown catch: 'My eyes never left the ball'

Tank Dell couldn’t secure the football initially as Davis Mills’ throw ricocheted off his hands. Instead of giving up on the play and conceding an incompletion, the Texans’ dynamic and diminutive rookie wide receiver was determined and wound up delivering the most exciting play of the game Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

Dell twisted his body as he tried to catch Mills’ pass, and the ball popped into the air off his hands and shoulder pads. As he fell to the ground in the end zone, the former University of Houston star managed to catch a spectacular touchdown on New England Patriots cornerback Isaiah Bolden while barely keeping his cleats inside the end zone.

It was a stellar example of concentration from Dell, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound third-round draft pick. Dell created excitement and points in his first NFL game, catching five passes for 65 yards on eight targets with one incredible play for the first touchdown of his career.

“Actually, my eyes just never left the ball,” Dell told KPRC 2. “It got on me quick. I didn’t know it was going to get on me that quick It was a great ball by Davis. I kind of let it slip through my shoulders a little bit, but I kept my eyes on the ball and kept focusing on the ball and eventually grabbed it.”

“It was cool for me. I feel like it’s just a blessing for sure, but this is just the preseason and I’m looking forward to kicking it off in the regular season.”

“It was good to see Tank make some plays,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “We’ve seen him make a lot of plays throughout training camp, some of these same plays, so it was good to see him do the same thing here in a game. He’s going to be an explosive playmaker for us, and we look forward to him continuing to make some of those plays.

How Dell performed reinforced that his game translates at the NFL level. Although Dell is undersized as a wide receiver, his routes are explosive and textbook in terms of fundamentals at creating separation. Dell even told Mills to get the football up after he had to dive for a 15-yard completion over the middle before he caught a 24-yard pass to set up his score.

“Yeah, he’s great, electrifying,” Mills said. “I think that’s the best way to describe him. He’s going to make guys miss in tight windows and when he catches a short pass, he’s going to try to score anywhere he gets it on the field, I think. 

“Just thinking in my head, I know there were a couple more plays where I could have given him a better, accurate ball that, if it was a catch, he might have fallen down. But, if I can bring it up six inches, he can catch it, hit him in stride, and who knows what he’ll do with the ball in his hands.”

Signed to a four-year, $5.719 million contract that includes a $1.159 million signing bonus, Dell was drafted with the 69th overall after a trade. He caught 228 career passes for 3,155 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Dell visited the Texans and was scouted individually at his campus Pro Day workout by general manager Nick Caserio and special teams coordinator Frank Ross.

He also visited the Cleveland Browns and worked out privately for the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills.

Dell has run the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds.

Although undersized, he has outstanding hands, quickness, route-running skills and is a dangerous returner.

Now, Dell is reinforcing why he was a smart pick for the Texans.

“It’s good just to go out here and show my coaches what I can do,” Dell said. “We didn’t get the timing in camp, so this is when it’s just showing them when it’s time to play football I’ll give everthing to you guys. Yeah, I still got more to prove and work to be done.

“I think the offense is special. I think we started a little slow and then we got rolling as we got going. I think it is going to be really special, we have a really good running game and a well-balanced passing game. We have a lot of talent and a lot of guys we can get the ball to and a lot of good guys up front to hold up. I think we have the quarterbacks to get the ball to the right guys and I think it is an exciting offense for sure.”

The Alabama A&M and Independence Community College transfer caught 90 passes for 1,329 yards and 212 touchdowns in 2021.

“Couldn’t be more happy for Tank,” UH coach Dana Holgersen said when the Texans drafted him. “He loves the city of Houston. He is a special player with explosive ability. For him to continue his career here is as good as it gets.”

Dell has called himself “the best wide receiver in the draft.”

Dell said he has a “chip on his shoulder,” and has something to prove.

He even wrote down every wide receivers’ name drafted above him.

Dell, a two-time all-conference selection, caught 109 passes for a nation-high 1,398 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He finished second in the nation in catches.

Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud encouraged general manager Nick Caserio to draft Dell after bonding with him at the NFL scouting combine. Caserio was already sold on Dell, though.

“Yeah, that’s just a glimpse of what he can do,” Stroud said. “He’s showed so much already in camp. I think me and him kind of have a natural connection. Of course going all the way back into the combine, me and him have early conversations, and now fast forward we’re on the same team, and that play was a great release, good ball by Davis, back shoulder, and it was good focus because it always is different when you’re out there.

" It’s not going to just be catch, touchdown. It’s going to be bang-bang. He kept with it, which I’m really happy for him, and yeah, he made a lot of good plays. He’s a great player. I can’t wait to see what we do together.”

The Daytona Beach, Florida native originally committed to Florida International University before later enrolling at UH and excelling for the Coogs.

“I helped Houston get back to its winning days,” Dell said. “I’m ready to do the same here.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots

Photo: Omar Rawlings / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

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