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McClain: Texans improve secondary with cornerback Kamari Lassiter and safety Calen Bullock in second and third rounds

mcclain war room

John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

Even though the Texans entered the draft without a first-round pick, they were able to improve the secondary on Day 2 by selecting second-round cornerback Kamari Lassiter of Georgia and third-round safety Calen Bullock of USC.

Executive Vice President and General Manager Nick Caserio and Head Coach DeMeco Ryans know what's ahead. The Texans play a first-place schedule that includes games against such veteran quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Tua Tagovailoa, Jordan Love and Jared Goff.

Their schedule also includes games against three quarterbacks who were among the top-10 draft choices – Chicago's Caleb Williams (first), New England's Drake Maye (third) and Minnesota's J.J. McCarthy (10th). And Caserio and Ryans also are well-aware of their six games against AFC South quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis.

That's barring injuries, of course. But any way you slice it, the Texans' defense has a Herculean challenge. That's why Caserio signed 14 defensive free agents and re-signed four more on that side of the ball. Expect him to select more defensive players on Saturday, the last day of the draft, and a day the Texans will start with five picks.

In somewhat of a surprise, Caserio used his second pick in the second round, 59th overall, on Notre Dame right tackle Blake Fisher, a redshirt sophomore. Drafting an offensive tackle wasn't surprising, but taking one in the second round was.

In most mock drafts, the Texans were projected to take a defensive tackle and cornerback, or a cornerback and defensive tackle in the second round. When the round began, defensive tackles went 35th, 36th, 38th and 39th. Caserio nabbed Lassiter with the 42nd selection over corners like Max Melton, Mike Sainristil and Ennis Rakestraw.

It wouldn't have been a typical Texans' draft without Caserio making a trade. He had his eye on Bullock and figured he better start playing "Let's Make a Deal" to move up to secure him. He gave Philadelphia his third-round pick, 86th overall, and threw in one of his fourth-round selections, 123rd, to acquire the 78th pick, and Bullock became a Texan.

As it stands going into the last day of the draft – rounds four through seven – the Texans have seven picks: one in the fourth round (127), two in the sixth (188 and 189) and two in the seventh (238, 247). Fans know that's going to change because Caserio is going to swing a deal or two.

Now, let's analyze what Lassiter, Fisher and Bullock might be able to provide the Texans as rookies. The coaches won't be in a rush to play them – think about how Stroud was handled as a rookie when Ryans didn't announce he would be the starter until right before regular season began.

What do coaches love the most? Competition. And they're going to get it in droves, especially on defense, where there are currently 10 cornerbacks and seven safeties on the roster, including Lassiter and Bullock.

The only thing we know about the Texans' cornerbacks is Derek Stingley will start on one side. Desmond King II will get a lot of playing time. Free agent corners Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson – the third and ninth overall picks in their drafts – are hoping to earn a starting job or a lot of playing time at the very least.

Caserio loves players from the Power Five conferences. He drafted three more on Friday.

Lassiter, who helped Georgia win two national championships as a freshman and sophomore, played in 15 games his first year and started 15 and 14 the last two years. He was voted a team captain. It concerned some teams when he didn't run at the combine and posted a 4.60 at his pro day. Obviously, that time didn't scare off the Texans. At the combine, Lassiter's 6.62 in the 3-cone drill was the best among defensive backs. His 4.12 in the 20-yard shuttle was third among cornerbacks.

Lassiter usually covered the opponent's best receiver whether it was outside or inside. Last season, he allowed only 15 catches for 156 yards and no touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. At 6-0, 187, some believe he projects as a nickel corner while others have him outside. The Texans will figure out where he fits best in Ryans' defense. He could have an immediate impact.

Fisher's role as a rookie could be competing with Charlie Heck to be the swing tackle. Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard are the starters. As Ryans and Slowik found out last season, a team can never have enough offensive linemen. They had to start 11 linemen because of injuries.

Fisher, 6-6, 310, will be reunited with Jarrett Patterson, last year's sixth-round pick from Notre Dame. Patterson was ticketed to compete for a starting job at left guard, but an injury to rookie Juice Scruggs forced him to start at center before he went on injured reserve for the season.

As a redshirt freshman, Fisher was the starting left tackle but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game. He returned to start at right tackle the last two seasons opposite Joe Alt, who was drafted as the fifth overall pick by the Chargers on Thursday.

After the Texans selected Fisher, Daniel Jeremiah, the NFL Network's lead draft analyst, said Fisher would have been a first-round pick if he'd returned to school another year. The Texans are willing to coach Fisher and see how quickly he develops.

Because Notre Dame plays a pro-style offense, Fisher is well-schooled in pass protection but needs to improve his run blocking.

Now, let's check out Bullock. At 6-2, 188, he ran a 4.48 at the combine. He made 32 starts for the Trojans, including 26 over the last two seasons. In 2022, he was primarily a deep safety with range to cover sideline to sideline and was better in coverage than against the run.

Last season, Bullock played deep, in the box and in the slot. He still has a lot to learn at the next level, and he must get more physical against the run. Still, there's no denying his talent – size, speed, durability, a lot of college experience and a willingness to learn. He'll get that chance to learn when he connects with Jalen Pitre, Jimmie Ward and other veterans at his position.

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