2013 Defensive Backs recap**
Pass defense (3rd) - 195.2 ypg
Seven interceptions - last in the league
Yielded 29 passing touchdowns
Key offseason additions: S Chris Clemons (formerly of Miami), S Kendrick Lewis (formerly of Kansas City)
Key offseason losses: S Danieal Manning (waived, signed by Cincinnati), CB Brice McCain (waived, signed by Pittsburgh)
4th (135 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)
6th (181 - from Oakland, in the Schaub deal, CAN be moved)
6th (211 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)
7th (256 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)
Cornerback depth chart
CB - Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, Josh Victorian
CB - Johnathan Joseph, AJ Bouye, Elbert Mack
Safety depth chart
S - Kendrick Lewis, Chris Clemons, Shiloh Keo, Jawanza Starling
S - DJ Swearinger, Eddie Pleasant, Steven Terrell
Last year's numbers tell you everything and nothing all at the same time about the state of the Texans secondary heading into the 2014 season. The Texans were third in the league, giving up less than 200 yards per game through the air, yet gave up 29 passing touchdowns and had only seven interceptions. Attempting to decipher much of anything from the numbers is pointless, to be honest.
Yet, the dichotomy in the numbers shows how maddening this unit was in 2013. It was besieged by injuries (Danieal Manning), inconsistency (Jonathan Joseph) and an experiment gone WAY wrong (Ed Reed).
Kareem Jackson and Joseph must be more consistent in 2014, in all facets, for this defense to get back to its 2011/2012 level. Yes, the pass rush needs to provide them some help, but they both know they're better than they played in 2013. Furthering complicating matters was the fact that the team did not get a strong performance from its nickel corner Brice McCain.
The former Utah speedster had a handful of brilliant moments in Houston but very few of those occurred last year. His departure leaves a major opportunity at that key nickel corner/slot corner position. Can Brandon Harris fill that spot? Will it be a rookie? Let's agree on the fact that, at a minimum, there should be some intense competition to fill that role, one that has become as important as any on the defensive side of the ball.
The safety position was upgraded with the additions of Kendrick Lewis and Chris Clemons. How much of an upgrade remains to be seen. Regardless, this secondary needs a playmaker at safety.
Lewis and Clemons are solid value additions that'll compete to start, but the team still needs a middle third, range player that leads the secondary for the next ten years. DJ Swearinger showed promise, yet he's more of a threat the closer he is to the line of scrimmage.
If the Texans add a young player capable of playing single high safety, with some range to play over the top in cover one or play the half-field in cover two/four/six, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel can allow Swearinger to be more involved near the line of scrimmage. Expect the Texans to take a long hard look at slot corner options, a safety with range and/or a player with duality (can do both)
Cornerback Draft Options
1st - None
2nd - CB Jason Verrett - TCU
3rd - CB Marcus Roberson - Florida, CB/S Jaylen Watkins - Florida
4th - CB Demetri Goodson - Baylor, CB Andre Hal - Vanderbilt, CB Nevin Lawson - Utah State
5th - CB Walt Aikens - Liberty, CB/S Chris Davis - Auburn
6th - CB Dontae Johnson - NC State
7th - CB Lavelle Westbrooks - Georgia Southern
UDFA - CB Ciante Evans - Nebraska, CB Qua Cox - Jackson State, CB - Deion Belue - Alabama
New head coach Bill O'Brien hasn't said much specifically about, well, much of anything throughout this draft process. He did say the team would draft a quarterback. And, water is wet.
Beyond that, he truly hasn't been specific about the direction the team would take in the draft. But, one thing that he's said a few times is stuck in my head. He said at his introductory press conference and again in a later TV interview that the league is playing 65% or more nickel coverage.
Knowing that last year's nickel cover corner Brice McCain is gone and that the coaching staff realizes the value in that position, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see the Texans take Verrett if he falls to them at pick No. 33.
Let me be clear, it's not likely, given the chance to take a quarterback the team covets with that pick, but if the team truly wants an impact player at that "new" key position, Verrett is it. He's not big, but he's tough as a $2 steak and is flypaper in coverage.
He'd be the consummate slot corner and may be the best option in the entire draft class. But, he's had injuries (tough enough to play through a torn labrum - shoulder that needed surgery after the Combine), the team has other overt needs, especially at quarterback, and the Texans may have other value options in mind in later rounds.
One of those options could be Watkins. He was sort of a position nomad at Florida, playing both cornerback and safety, due to the depth the Gators had at the cornerback position. But, at the Senior Bowl, he mainly played cornerback and on the second day, he was flat out brilliant. I don't remember anyone catching a ball on him that day. An injury slowed him down during his week at the Senior Bowl, but his versatility must be intriguing to the Texans.
Three and a half years ago, Goodson was the starting point guard at Gonzaga, but returned to his home state and became an Honorable mention All-Big 12 honoree as a senior at Baylor. My guess is that he won't lose many jump balls on deep go routes. Hal isn't blazing fast but he threw a blanket over some of the best receivers in the SEC.
Lawson can fly, loves to get up and press and has the quickness to play man on slot receivers. Aikens doesn't strike me as a slot corner option, but he's too good of a defensive back to not add to this roster, especially in the fifth round. Davis is probably a better safety than a corner, but the inside slot position may be perfect for his blend of skills. And, he can return kicks and punts. I'm sure most of you have seen his work? 109 yards worth of work?
Safety Draft Options
1st - None
2nd - S Jimmie Ward - Northern Illinois, S/CB Lamarcus Joyner - Florida State
3rd - S Terrence Brooks - Florida State, S/CB Antone Exum - Virginia Tech, S Deone Bucannon - Washington State
4th - S Kenny Ladler - Vanderbilt, S/CB Brock Vereen - Minnesota, S Vinnie Sunseri - Alabama
5th - S/CB Marqueston Huff - Wyoming, S/CB Dez Southward - Wisconsin
6th - S Lonnie Ballentine - Memphis, S Alden Darby - Arizona State, S Terrance Mitchell - Oregon
7th - S Hakeem Smith, Louisville, S Jonathan Dowling - Western Kentucky, S Sean Parker - Washington
UDFA - S Nickoe Whitley - Mississippi State, S Pierre Warren - Jacksonville State, S Ty Zimmerman - Kansas State
Ward looks more like a cornerback than he does a safety and he has excellent cover skills. Lithe though he may look, the former NIU Husky packs a punch when he strikes, can cover the slot and play with range in the middle of the field. It's reasonable to think that Ward could play that inside position for a year or two and then transition back to a free safety position in the future. The rub is that Ward may be gone by pick No. 33.
When I first started my draft analysis for this class back in 2012, or so it seems, Joyner really caught my eye. But, this year significantly changed how I viewed him as a next level player. The main reason was that halfway through the year, former FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt moved Joyner to the slot corner position and the Seminoles defense took on a completely different identity.
If you're more into height, weight and speed, he's not your guy. He's 5'8", if he's lucky and only 180 pounds, while running a pedestrian mid-4.5 forty yard dash; however, if you're into a football player that makes plays, consistently, you'll love him. He's tailor made to play this position and impact whatever defense he ends up playing on in the future. Pick No. 33 may be a bit high, but if the Texans make some moves and end up in the bottom half of the second, Joyner may entice them.
Joyner's teammate Brooks was often overshadowed by Joyner, et al., but like his teammate, Brooks is a ball player who does everything well. He doesn't have blinding speed and/or hulking size, but he's always around the ball, makes tackles and is a leader wherever he goes. He wasn't a top recruit at Florida State and had to work for everything he got.
That was evident at the Senior Bowl where he just went to work each and every day. He was one of my "on the radar" targets heading into the week in Mobile, as I thought he needed to impress there to eke up into day two. Suffice it to say, he definitely delivered.
Bucannon is a hammer with good range and ball skills, but missed a bunch of tackles in his career. Don't get me wrong, this guy is an old school, 15 yard penalty waiting to happen with the ruthless way he strikes, but he also missed more tackles per play than any other safety in this draft class.
Exum is a complete mystery after missing the season with an ACL tear, but what's not debatable, in my opinion, is that he's a safety, only a corner in a pinch. Sunseri is also coming off of an ACL, but tested exceptionally well at his personal Pro Day. The son of a coach and a former NFL player, the former Tide safety can play either safety spot. Huff played safety and cornerback in his career at Wyoming and is fun to watch.
He saved a number of touchdowns with his speed and tackling ability at Wyoming. Ballentine is 6'3" and 220 pounds with decent range and change of direction skills. Darby is one of my favorite underrated prospects in this draft and I love the way he goes after the football when it's in the air. Smith was overshadowed by teammate Calvin Pryor, but is one of the best tacklers in this entire draft.
Parker was a former five-star recruit out of Los Angeles and is a strong value option in the last round of the draft.