Positional Review: Cornerback Edition
Since the Texans hired Bill O’Brien as general manager, the Texans secondary has gone through a dramatic overhaul. They’ve added some new faces, traded some away, signed some, and lost some in free agency. For years the secondary has been a focal point for the Texans, trying to find the right combination for a lockdown secondary. O’Brien made several moves since the last offseason to fit his vision. He’s added players who fit the scheme him and new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver invasion, a solid group of corners who excel in man to man coverage, with a reliable slot corner to compliment them. Well, look at some of the recent additions to the team and how it’s affected the Texans secondary.
When Bill O’Brien assumed the general manager role, he knew a retool of the secondary was necessary. The Texans were coming off the 2018 reason with their secondary finishing at the bottom of each category at corner. It was time for a change. The ever decimated corner ground the season before was about to get the change it needed. They started by signing Cornerback Bradley Roby to a one year $10 million prove-it deal. Bradley was coming off a down year in Denver and was set on raising his value. Roby battled health issues but he proved his worth for the Texans in 2019 having himself a solid bounce-back season. He played in 10 games recording 38 tackles, 2 interceptions, including a pick 6, and 2 forced fumbles. Roby signed a 3 year 36 million dollar deal.
In the 2019 draft, the Texans used the 54th overall pick to select Lonnie Johnson out of Kentucky. Johnson was exactly the corner the Texans had been looking to add to their secondary. He’s a tall (6’2), man coverage corner who has impressive arm length and speed to mirror NFL wide receivers. As a rookie Johnson played in 14 games recording 40 tackles and 0 ints. Johnson at times showed impressive ball skills and proved how great of a man coverage corner he can be. He will get the chance to prove himself this season, as he’s slated to start as the second outside corner opposite Conley! Lonnie showed great promise in his first NFL season and is a guy they expect to make the second-year leap!
On October 21st, 2019, it was reported the Texans agreed to acquire former Oakland Raider corner, Gareon Conley in exchange for a 3rd rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft. Less than a week into his tenure with the club the corner was thrown into the fire, starting against his former team in week 8! Conley has always been known to be a good man corner, however, when the Raiders hired John Gruden, they switched to zone coverage. Conley struggled in Oakland to start the 2019 season and was traded to Houston. The Texans allowed Conley to play his style of game, and it paid off for both parties. Conley had an immediate impact for Houston. Conley finished the season for the Texans, appearing in 8 games, recording 27 tackles, 0 ints, and an impressive 11 passed defended. Conley was one of the top corners last season in passes defended. Conley will now have a full offseason to build off an already impressive first season. Conley will get a shot to show how good he can be this season and transform the Houston Secondary!
The Texans took a chance on another former first-rounder when the claimed Vernon Hargreaves’s off waivers in 2019. Hargreaves was cut from Tampa bay for what Coach Arian’s called, lack of effort in practice. Hargreaves showed no lack of effort in his first season as a Texan. Hargreaves finished the 2019 season for the Texans with 6 games played, recording 27 tackles, 2 passes defended, and 0 ints. Hargreaves will get a chance to compete this season for the slot position with rookie John Reid. Hargreaves was cut by Houston early in the offseason and resigned to a 1-year team-friendly deal. While it was a bumpy 2019 season he will get one final shot to prove his worth to the Texans. While it seems unlikely he will be the team’s slot starter for 2020, he will get the chance to compete. He will have to showcase excellent special teams play to avoid getting cut by Houston.
With the 141st pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Texans selected former Penn state corner, John Reid. Reid is a primary slot corner who is a bit undersized but makes up for it with tremendous speed and fantastic ball instincts. Reid will get the chance to be the opening day slot corner and a guy the Texans think will play valuable minutes even as a rookie. Reid will get the chance to prove himself from the start. John Reid is a guy to watch for in 2020 and if he doesn’t win the job out of camp expect him to play a key special team role.
Rest of the Group
The rest of the corners for Houston are primarily special teamers, who can fill in if need be. Cornell Armstrong, Keion Crossen, and Phillip Gaines are guys who sever a special team role for the Texans. They are essential to Houston both at special teamers and depth players. They all have a place on the roster, and can’t be overlooked as corners. They can fill in for an injury, give the starters a break, and are all very capable NFL corners. The Texans will rely on them as primary special team aces and backups. Houston has gone from no depth to flourished as they went a complete overhaul.
The Texans’ cornerback position has gone from a point of concern to a strength due to Bill O’Brien’s aggressiveness and willingness to take a chance on players. The Texans have a vision and they have the players they believe can fit the system they want to run. Look for several Texans corners to turn heads and surprise people this season.
photo credits: houstontexans.com, Jonathon Jones-USA Today Sports, si.com, Thomas B. Shea / USA TODAY Sports