Credit: Denny Medley, USA Today Sports

Gallant: Cornerback The Key For Texans To Contend

Whether drafting one or trading for one, the Texans MUST get a quality one

Paul Gallant
April 24, 2019 - 7:36 pm

For well over a year, the Texans have desperately needed two things:

  • Offensive linemen
  • Cornerbacks

They deserve a lot of credit for going 11-5 despite their issues at both positions last year. And now that we’ve given them a hearty pat on the back, let’s face an unfortunate truth together: When the NFL Draft – a complete crapshoot – starts Thursday, the Texans are facing an uphill battle to address those needs.

Houston does have 7 draft picks, including 4 (23, 54, 55, and 86) in the first 3 rounds. But just 7 swings at finding short- and long-term contributors for their roster? That isn’t much. For context, they have 7 cracks to find players over 254 total selections made by the NFL’s 32 teams.

The offensive line needs are so, so, so obvious. After all, Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times last season. He’s one of the more mobile QBs in the league, and he was taken down the 5th most times in NFL History. Imagine if he was a statue? Move over David Carr in 2005 (68 sacks, 3rd most all time) and 2002 (76 sacks, most all time), there’s a bloody pulp that used to be a quarterback all by himself in first place!

The Texans will not entirely fix their 2019 offensive line by picking a few prospects in this year’s draft. This will likely be a 2-year process. Quality lineman have always taken time and reps to develop; just ask Duane Brown in 2008. And 10+ years later it’s even MORE difficult to get the most out of them due to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. With limited offseason workouts and little coaching, how up to speed can a young offensive lineman get?

Let me restate the obvious: Deshaun Watson’s long-term health is the biggest priority for the Houston Texans in the years ahead. And immediate improvements to the offensive line give him a much better shot at survival. I won’t be upset if Brian Gaine picks an offensive lineman at pick 23.

But does Deshaun Watson’s health 2-3 years down the road (and longer) matter more than the Texans doing all they can to win a championship NOW?

IMPROVEMENT AT CORNERBACK IS MORE IMPORTANT TO 2019 THAN IMPROVEMENT ON THE OL

For all their warts, the Texans are still coming off an 11-5 season and an AFC South title (with a 9-game winning streak along the way). They have a roster featuring Watson. DeAndre Hopkins. J.J. Watt. Jadeveon Clowney. They might be top heavy, but damn, that is one strong core.

Unfortunately, the Texans aren’t strong at corner. Johnathan Joseph is 35. Bradley Roby is an unknown. And we’re HOPING that Aaron Colvin was just injured last year. That group isn’t good enough for a season where the Texans have to stop these quarterbacks:

  • Drew Brees
  • Nick Foles twice (though he’s meh to me)
  • Phillip Rivers
  • Cam Newton (who might not have a functioning shoulder)
  • Matt Ryan (also meh)
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Andrew Luck twice
  • Tom Brady

That list is terrifying. The current group of corners who will try to stop ‘em? Not so much. And that’s why I believe it’s more important for the 2019 Texans – this seasons team - to use their high end draft capital to find a cornerback over an offensive lineman. A corner who not only can defend against these quarterbacks, but make plays.

Watson and company still won 11 games despite an offensive line that allowed 62 sacks. Yes, many were close, and few came against the NFL’s elite. Still, history has proven that you can win with a quarterback who is getting smashed. Take these years of Russell Wilson:

  • 2013: sacked 44 times (tied for 3rd most in NFL), 13-3, won Super Bowl
  • 2014: sacked 42 times (6th most in NFL), 12-4, lost in Super Bowl
  • 2015: sacked 45 times (tied for 3rd most in NFL), lost in divisional round
  • 2016: Sacked 41 times (tied for 3rd most in NFL), lost in divisional round

It isn’t ideal. At all. Plus, Russell Wilson may be an indestructible robot. But you can win with a bad offensive line. Can you win with a shaky secondary?

COULD THE TEXANS TRADE FOR AN ELITE CORNERBACK?

Let’s start with Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson. This 29-year old is still one of the most talented cornerbacks in the league. Unfortunately, he’s under contract with an awful team for two more seasons. On top of that, he doesn’t seem to be very happy there. Consider this social media post, AND that he deleted all references to the Cardinals from his social media profiles.

Peterson is entering the danger zone of his career when it comes to maintaining that elite play. But I’d be willing to trade as much as a first-round pick (either this year OR next year) to put him in the Texans secondary (and you’d likely need to give up that much seeing as the Cardinals have said he’s not going anywhere).

There’s also Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who isn’t happy with his contract in Denver. My little birds tell me he’s upset that the Broncos paid Kareem Jackson this offseason…and not him.

Harris is arguably the best slot cornerback in the league, and can play outside corner too. But he’ll be 30 in March, tore his ACL in 2014, AND is coming off of a broken fibula this past season. Considering he’d need a new contract if he came here (probably around $15 M a year, he’s got a cap hit of ~ $8.8 M), he could probably be had for a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Those little birds also told me that Harris wants to play outside more. Outside, or inside instead of Aaron Colvin…I’m cool with either.

If the Texans are going to build off an 11-5 team and be a contender, they need IMMEDIATE and ACTUAL help at cornerback. Trading for one of these two gives them the best chance at getting that.

SHOULD THE TEXANS DRAFT A CORNERBACK EARLY?

If they don’t trade for Peterson or Harris? Duh!

I did some scouting of my own to get a feel for the supposed top 5 cornerbacks coming into this year’s draft, watching 4 games of each.

Keep in mind the following. I’m not a scout. I haven’t watched film to study an individual player to THIS degree since I was watching myself play defensive back in high school. And I don’t have the ability to show you the specific clips that helped me make the following rankings. That said, here’s how I’d rank them.

1A. Rock Ya-Sin – Temple (Film: Buffalo, Boston College, Maryland, Central Florida)

“Who?”

Learn this guy’s amazing name. He is EASILY the most physical of the corners that I watched, whether in man coverage or just coming up to support the run. He wants to beat up receivers, and punish ball carriers. Plus, he can make plays on the ball too.

Ya-Sin played a lot of man coverage in the film that I watched. I know the opponent isn’t very impressive, but he single handedly was keeping the Owls in their game against Buffalo. Watch for yourself, you’ll understand what I saw. He looks like the exact kind of player that Bill O’Brien would want.

1B. Justin Layne – Michigan State (Film: Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Utah State)

Layne wasn’t quite as physical as Ya-Sin. But he’s a guy that excelled at both man coverage AND zone coverage, and wasn’t afraid to come up and make a tackle. He’s tall – 6’1 ¾” – and fights to with receivers until the last second trying to knock passes out of their hands. He even showed a knack for making plays while blitzing. He’s the most well rounded of all the corners I watched, and had he hit a little harder I’d have given him the edge over Ya-Sin.

3. DeAndre Baker – Georgia (Film: ‘Bama in SEC Champ, LSU, Kentucky, Oklahoma in ’18 CFP)

I didn’t want to like Baker, and for a somewhat irrational reason. Why? Because he’s done something that DRIVES ME ABSOLUTELY CRAZY, and twice. On 2 pick 6s – one against South Carolina AND one during a spring game – he forgot to bring the ball into the actual end zone. He just fumbled while walking in. How the HELL does that happen TWICE?

Baker showed he can be physical when necessary in man coverage, and that he knows how to make plays on the ball. Unfortunately, his tackling leaves A LOT to be desired. He takes some really bad angles and doesn’t like initiating contact. He’s got some impressive straight-line hustle speed to chase someone down from behind. But I’d like the Texans to get a cornerback who is willing to get his shoulder pads dirty.  

4. Byron Murphy – Washington (Film: Ohio State, Utah, Washington State, Cal)

Murphy played A LOT of zone for the Huskies, and did it well in the 4 games I watched. He showed a knack for making big plays late; specifically, against Utah and Washington State. Considering his size – he’s just 5’10 3/4” – he fared pretty well against taller receivers.

He’s agile, has elite closing speed, and isn’t afraid to come up in run support. My biggest concerns: How well would he fare in man coverage on a regular basis against bigger and faster wide outs? And is he the kind of cornerback that can only play in the slot?

5. Greedy Williams – LSU (Film: Auburn, Georgia, A&M, Ole Miss)

Greedy is easily the most athletic of all the cornerbacks I watched, and has incredible straight-line speed (evidenced by that 4.37 40 he ran at the NFL Combine). But I’m not a fan of his physicality.

He’s a little too physical in coverage, and was called for multiple pass interferences in the games that I studied. Quarterbacks seemed nervous to throw his way, but when they did, he wasn’t making the same amount of plays that the other 4 were.

Like Baker, Williams is not physical enough as a tackler, and shies away from it. From time to time he’d dive at ankles, but that’s pretty much it. Major turn off.

Paul Gallant hosts Mad Radio - mornings 6-10 CT on SportsRadio 610 - with Mike Meltser & Seth Payne.

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