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Know Your Enemy: Houston Texans Wide Receiver, Kenny Stills

Former division rival and 2019 training camp visitor, returns to Tampa Bay in Week 16

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will remember Kenny Stills. Once with the New Orleans Saints, the wide receiver has plenty of experience in Raymond James Stadium.

As much of a reunion as it is from a former divisional foe aspect, it’s Stills’ second trip to Tampa this year alone, which is a bit of an unusual occurrence.

His first visit came in pre-season, as the then Miami Dolphins player came to town with his team for some joint practice sessions and a game where the starters got little action.

This time though, he’s coming in for something much more important than a training camp practice or two. He and his teammates are coming for a divisional title. It’s simple for the Texans really. Win, and they’re the AFC South Champions.

Lose, and they play for their playoff lives in Week 17. It’s an all or - potentially - nothing sort of game. And those are always fun.

It’s been a bit since Stills wore Saints colors. So let’s catch-up.

KENNY STILLS’ HISTORY

Ball State v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

As a fifth round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Stills was the 16th wide receiver taken. In front him, were names like Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marquise Goodwin, and DeAndre Hopkins.

While he and his current Texans teammate were drafted in the same class, it would be years before the two met up in Houston.

First, Stills spent his first two seasons in New Orleans before being traded to the Miami Dolphins in a move not many who watched the Saints organization agreed with, or appreciated.

In two seasons with the team that drafted him, Stills started seventeen games while playing in 31. He brought in 95 passes for 1,572-yards and had eight touchdown receptions by the end of the 2014 season. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.

Meanwhile, the Saints got two less than stellar years out of Danell Ellerbe and a pick which turned into cornerback P.J. Williams.

At least Williams is still in New Orleans, but to date he has just four career interceptions since being drafted in 2015, and is part of a defense that added Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins in more recent days. Not a sign of contentment with the secondary in NOLA.

Meanwhile, in Miami, Stills appeared in every game for the Dolphins between 2015 and 2018, except one.

Despite the perceived upside he carried with him to Miami, his talents never fully flourished there, and he never reached the catch or yards numbers he did with the Saints.

KENNY STILLS IN 2019

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On September 1st, the Miami Dolphins sent about the biggest sign they could to their fans the franchise was in full-blown re-build mode. They traded Stills and left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans for a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick, cornerback Johnson Bademosi and offensive tackle Julien Davenport.

They did so, despite many players reportedly expressing their anger at the thought of the team shipping their franchise left tackle away for draft picks.

At the time of the trade, it was viewed as a move which would help Deshaun Watson and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins turn the Texans’ offense into a force to be reckoned with.

This season with Houston, Stills has caught 35 passes and gained 504-yards while scoring four touchdowns. Modest numbers, but solid considering he joined the offense just one week prior to their first game....in New Orleans. His return with his new squad resulted in a loss, but Stills turned in three catches and a touchdown, getting off to a good start in his new shade of blue.

He didn’t have another touchdown catch until Week 13 against the New England Patriots, and then brought in two just last week to help his Texans defeat the Tennessee Titans in a critical AFC South Divisional match-up.

While he’s not putting up sky-high numbers, his stats show one thing. Throwing to Stills has been an extremely efficient way for Watson to move his offense. Of the 46 times the quarterback has targeted this receiver, they’ve connected 35 times.

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16, Stills will be one of three dangerous options for Watson to target against the likes of Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.

He may not get targeted as much as Hopkins, but he can have a big impact on the game. Here’s how.

STRENGTHS

o Speed

Speed can kill in the NFL, and Stills has it. Two big examples of how speed can get the better of people came in Seattle and against the Arizona Cardinals just this season.

In both games, receivers who have Stills-like attributes burned Todd Bowles’ defense, for big plays. Tyler Lockett and Christian Kirk had their best days of the season against a Buccaneers secondary which didn’t do enough to contain or match the deep and big play threat both players brought to their teams.

o Body Control

Where Kirk falls short of Lockett’s speed, he makes up for it in ability to get off the line and body control. Stills has a similar ability, and never looks like he’s in a place or position because of any reason other than he meant to be. There isn’t a lot of wasted motion in Stills route running and runs after catch. With each step planned and prepared for, any misstep by a Bucs defender could open the door Stills needs to gouge them for big yards and scoring plays.

WEAKNESSES

o Physicality

Something Stills can struggle with at times is getting off the line against physical defensive backs, and fighting through contact to make plays. His quickness and deep speed force some defenders to play off, and this is exactly what Stills wants. Guys like Davis and Murphy-Bunting can’t match his speed, so winning at the line of scrimmage will be a key factor to keeping Stills from getting loose.

It’s not to say Stills isn’t a tough receiver. There’s a reason the man has barely missed a game in his career. We’re talking more physically defeating his opponents here, and Stills prefers to win with separation than he does with muscle.

o Play Strength

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense has been really good in 2019 when it comes to tackling. Stills is a little shiftier than some of the opponents they’ve played before. However, he’s not much of a fighter and doesn’t break many tackles once contacted. Sticking close with him in the field of play is the first step, but making contact is the next. And most likely, once he’s hit, he won’t be going much further.

Find out what the hosts of the Locked On Texans Podcast had to say about Stills and the rest of the Houston Texans on this week’s crossover episode of the Locked On Bucs Podcast!

Where the Buccaneers are struggling to end the season, the Texans are thriving. Their wide receiver depth is solid, and having Kenny Stills as a third option is going to be a key to their winning this game, and any other games they may play in the post-season or otherwise.

Stills doesn’t necessarily present the play-in-play-out threat a guy like DeAndre Hopkins does, but he has the requisite tools to be a menace on the field if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary doesn’t do the little things needed t keep this guy in check.

If you didn’t know. Now you do.