HOUSTON — Nathaniel “Tank” Dell sold the route with a convincing jab step before accelerating past the coverage, creating a ton of separation in rapid-fire fashion and a clear passing lane for University of Houston quarterback Clayton Tune. Between the wide receiver’s explosive speed and crisp route, Tune had an easy sight line to connect with him for a deep touchdown pass.
Nathaniel “Tank” Dell looks to position Houston for a championship run
It was a recurring theme for Tank Dell, whose given name is Nathaniel, as he scorched opposing defenses during a breakout season last year. Dell finished with 90 receptions for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns after building a strong chemistry and timing with Tune.
Dell finished the season strong, including five 100-yard receiving performances in the final seven games and 152 yards against Cincinnati and first-round cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner in the conference championship game.
What it all means for the undersized Daytona Beach, Fla. native as he returns for his junior season: positioning his team for a potential championship run during their final season in the American Athletic Conference before heading to the Big 12 Conference, and honing his skills for his ultimate goal, the NFL.
“I’m very excited for this upcoming season,” Dell said. “I’m ready to lead my team back to a championship, go back to the championship, this time hopefully Houston can win a championship. I’ve got goals set right now. I’m just trying to chase greatness.”
Dell’s obvious speed, polished patterns, and sound hands make him one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the nation. He has emerged as the Coogs’ go-to wide receiver and the focal point of an offense expected to lean heavily on him again this fall.
A former Alabama A&M and Independence Community College transfer who chose the Coogs over Central Michigan, New Mexico State, and South Florida, Dell caught 29 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns in his first season at Houston. Then, he emerged as a headliner in the offense last season.
Dell pursues NFL dream
Dell’s success has positioned him for a run at the next level through the 2023 NFL Draft. Dell is focused primarily on his team and individual goals, but a future in professional football is never far from his thoughts.
An NFL scout noted Dell’s lack of ideal size at 5-foot-10, 155 pounds is a factor in the evaluation, but emphasized: “This game is all about speed and the ability to make plays. I don’t doubt Tank’s ability or his heart. He’s got what it takes to be an NFL wide receiver.”
Dell averaged 14.8 yards per catch and 94.9 yards per game last season.
“It’s great because that’s [what] I’ve been dreaming about, but the job is not finished,” Dell said. “I’ve got to put in two good years. I had one good year. I want to be great. I have to put another great year on it and go from there.”
A first-team all-conference selection last season who finished eighth nationally in touchdown catches, Dell had a career-high 165 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a win over SMU last season.
Dell routinely got behind cornerbacks. Whenever he runs the 40-yard dash, he has a prediction of his time: “I will run a 4.3.”
Overcoming lack of size
Although Dell is not a big downfield target, he’s displayed durability and toughness for the Coogs with a willingness to go over the middle and absorb hits.
“I know I’m not the biggest,” Dell said. “I’ve never been the biggest, but I’ve always felt like I can come on the field and tell myself, ‘I’m the best.’ With that being said, I think my game is all about speed and quickness. The bigger guys, they do what they do, but I can separate myself by being quick and fast and getting open.”
Playing for coach Dana Holgorsen in a wide-open offense is “hella’ fun,” Dell said. And the connection Dell has with Tune, who passed for 3,456 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, is only expected to grow.
“It’s been great playing with Clayton,” Dell said. “I’ve been catching passes from Clayton for the past two years. The third one is going to be the charm. I’m still building. I’m still learning right now. I’m putting all the pieces together.”
Dell takes time to give back
During a youth football camp at UH organized by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Grant Stuard, Dell took time to discuss the fundamentals of the game and set an example.
“Growing up, that’s all I wanted was the older guys to help me out with my future,” Dell said. “To see stuff like this, NFL players like this helping out the younger generation and college players helping the younger generation, it’s finally my time to help.”