The Texans secondary underwent a complete makeover during the 2022 offseason. Four new starters took over in the back end, including two rookies drafted in the top 37 of the 2022 NFL Draft. Also, two veterans took over at the other two spots in the back four. Not surprisingly, the overall play in the back end was much better than it was in 2022 but, most importantly, it set up for an even better 2023, health permitting. Let's take a look at how the secondary shapes up heading into the 2023 season after the arrival of head coach DeMeco Ryans.
Under contract, returning for 2023
Jalen Pitre - 2022 second-rounder (37th overall) - On Friday night of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Texans were a few picks into the second round. We had our eyes on a number of names and then we heard "Jalen Pitre." OHHH, that was a glorious moment. However, just hearing his name paled in comparison to the reality of Pitre being in the defensive backfield for the Texans. By the end of the season, he was THE defensive leader in more ways than one. His infectious playing style and playmaking made him a hit with his home city's fans. He does need to improve in the tackling department, no doubt, but there's no one I'd rather have than Pitre as a pillar in this organization for his career. Total stud and the Texans need to add more like him over the next few years.
2022 stats - 147 tackles, five INTs, five TFLs, 1.0 sack, eight passes defensed, one FF, one FR
Steven Nelson - 2022 Free Agent - When Nelson was signed, I remember hearing some not so flattering things from places where Nelson had been. But, in watching him the previous years before he arrived, I thought he had played fairly well and Nelson played even better in 2022 as a Texan. He started 15 games during the season and was the steadying force at one cornerback spot all season. The OG in the backfield showed the young bucks how it was done and hopefully there's more than just one good year left in him.
2022 stats - 52 tackles, one INT, 1.0 sack, one FF, seven passes defensed
Derek Stingley Jr - 2022 first-rounder (third overall) - The future is incredibly bright in Houston and Sting is going to play a huge role in that. Perhaps no defender stands to benefit from the arrival of Ryans more than the Texans first 1st-round selection since 2019. He's just 21 years old and played the first nine games of the 2022 season before he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. When he's right and healthy, there's no more talented cover corner than the youngster from LSU. Now, he's only played 19 games in three seasons, so there's still some raw spots to work through, but his God-given ability and competitiveness stand out every single day. I can't wait to see him in Year Two.
2022 stats - 43 tackles, one INT, 1.0 sack, five passes defensed
Desmond King II - 2021 free agent, resigned in 2022 offseason - When King II signed with the Texans in 2021, it was thought that he would be the team's nickel and that was that. But, by Week Four of that season, he moved out to a perimeter cornerback position and stayed there. Then, with the arrival of Nelson and drafting of Stingley in the 2022 offseason, it was again thought that King would transition back to nickel. Yet, King was as instrumental over the last nine or ten games, again, at a perimeter corner position as anyone. I've always said about King that he's a defensive back with the versatility, toughness, ball skills and football IQ to play any position in the secondary. He finished tied for the team lead in TFLs, 4th on the team in tackles, tied for second in interceptions and tied for fourth in sacks. He was a bright light in a tough season, to say the least.
2022 stats - 89 tackles, two INTs, 3.0 sacks, 10 TFLs, one FF, two FRs, eight passes defensed
Eric Murray - 2020 free agent, re-signed in 2022 offseason - After starting most of the first two years, Murray spent most of the season on special teams, playing in all 17 games. His contributions on special teams helped the Texans become first in the league on special teams.
2022 stats - 27 tackles
Cobi Francis - 2022 undrafted college free agent - Francis signed in Houston as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft. He was active for five games and finished the season with one tackle. He has top notch athleticism and there's a spot on this team for athletes/competitors like him.
2022 stats - one tackle
Grayland Arnold - 2021 free agent - Arnold's injury kept him from being more of a contributor on the defense in 2022. He was brought back from IR and was active for eight games, contributing on special teams in those games.
2022 stats - three tackles
2022 Texans' unrestricted free agents - status unknown to this point
Tavierre Thomas - 2021 free agent - Tav just made plays. Defense. Special Teams. He was constantly around the football and the 2022 defense missed him when he was out with an injury early in the season. He played in just ten games, but finished eighth on the team averaging 4.1 tackles per game.
2022 stats - 41 tackles, two FFs, one TFL
Jonathan Owens - 2019 free agent - JO finished as the second leading tackler on the team with 125 stops. He and Pitre combined for 272 tackles, which has to change next season. Regardless, he became a full season starter for the first time in his career and made a significant impact on this defense in 2022. I can only imagine the growth he'll make in 2023 and beyond after a valuable 2022 season.
2022 stats - 125 tackles, 1.0 sack, four passes defensed
Tremon Smith - 2021 free agent - Tremon is one of the most electric return threats in the league, but teams didn't give him a ton of opportunity in 2022. But, he finally got an opportunity to get playing time at CB and he filled in well. He had two interceptions against Dallas in the gut-wrenching loss and tied for second on the team with those two picks. He also led the team in forced fumbles with three.
2022 stats - 22 tackles, three FF, two INT, 1.0 TFL
M.J. Stewart - 2022 free agent - As the 2022 season wore on, Stewart was rewarded with more and more playing time and it was his tipped ball that Tremon Smith intercepted at Dallas. Stewart was a rock star on special teams all year long and his play at safety improved significantly as the season progressed.
2022 stats - 41 tackles, two FRs, one TFL
Available unrestricted free agents THAT MAKE SENSE
Thinking about unrestricted free agents is tough in some sense, trying to find the right fit and the right money. In this secondary even more so because the Texans have plenty of returning players and Day One/Day Two draft capital already on the roster. So, I don't anticipate a ton of big money being spent on the unknown. Now, the guys listed below make sure for not being unknown, if you will.
S/CB Jimmie Ward, 49ers - When it comes to free agency, it starts with connections. Now, let me be very clear, I don't think the Texans will spend a ton of money in the secondary in free agency. But, if they did decide to go in that direction, Ward would make a ton of sense, having played a ton for Ryans in San Francisco. He could be a solid fit at a number of spots in the back end.
2022 stats - (12 games) - 50 tackles, three INTs, one TFL
CB Emmanuel Moseley, 49ers - Sense the theme here? Connections matter and for both SF guys - Ward and Moseley - the two are versatile as well. Moseley wasn't a high-profile draft pick, shoot, he wasn't even a draft pick. But, as an undrafted college free agent, Moseley was incredibly valuable to Ryans and the SF defense in his five years in San Francisco but he tore his ACL and missed most of the 2022 season.
2022 stats - (five games) 22 tackles, one INT, one TFL
S Kareem Jackson, Broncos - Well, if we're in the "let's get the band back together" mood, K Jack can certainly be a fit at safety. I wish he had permanently moved to safety years ago, but he's shown that he has a little bit left in the tank. Plus, a new head coach knows him well, having been in the same huddle with him here for two years. The leadership he could provide would be invaluable, as well.
2022 stats - (17 games, 17 starts) 94 tackles, two TFLs, three passes defensed
**Here's one final note on the secondary free agency class. The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback draft class is STUPID good and DEEP as all get out. As such, there's no real sense spending big on the unknown after having signed Nelson and drafting Stingley in 2022, especially with this 2023 CB class coming into the league. If there are dollars to be spent, it would make more sense at safety with JO and M.J., in particular, as unrestricted free agents and not as deep a safety draft class. Even at that point, I'm going to be stingier with the dollars in the secondary this offseason.
JH Crush List - Rookies by Texans draft selection THAT MAKE SENSE
In the Draft, the CB class is outstanding and it's deeeeep, like five e's deep, but I don't think the Texans will think about corners early in the draft. At safety, though, there are a few on my radar screen for sure, starting at the top of the second round, that could be a fit next to Pitre in the future.
1st round - 2nd overall
1st round - 12th overall
2nd round - 33rd overall
S Jammie Robinson, Florida State (5-11, 203)
Nickel/CB Clark Phillips III, Utah (5-10, 184)
CB turned S (as in I'd turn him into a safety) Kelee Ringo, Georgia (6-2, 205)
S/Nickel Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M (6-3, 200)
3rd round - 65th overall
CB Darius Rush, South Carolina (6-0, 200)
S Chris Smith, Georgia (5-11, 190)
3rd round - 73rd overall
Nickel/CB/S Jartavius 'Quan' Martin, Illinois (6-0, 195)
CB Julius Brents, Kansas State (6-4, 204)
S JL Skinner, Boise State (6-4, 218)
S Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State (5-11, 202)
4th round - 103rd overall
S Jordan Battle, Alabama (6-1, 210)
CB/Nickel Riley Moss, Iowa (6-0, 194)
CB/Nickel Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford (6-1, 190)
S/Nickel Jay Ward, LSU (6-2, 188)
5th round - 136th overall
CB/Nickel/Returner D'Shawn Jamison, Texas (5-10, 190)
CB Cam Mitchell, Northwestern (6-0, 195)
S Daniel Scott, Cal (6-2, 215)
6th round - 186th, 201st and 205th overall
CB/S Cory Trice Jr., Purdue (6-3, 215)
S Brandon Hill, Pitt (5-11, 195)
7th round - 238th overall
CB Arquon Bush, Cincinnati (6-0, 198)
S Jordan Howden, Minnesota (6-0, 210)