Is Robert Nelson the next A.J. Bouye?
By Peter Manfre
Robert Nelson is primed for a breakout campaign in 2017 and very well could be the next Texans’ player to go from an unknown commodity to a premier player in the NFL.
It was not always an easy road for Houston Texans cornerback Robert Nelson, or Nelly-Prime as some call him.
Nelson was not a member of the 2014 NFL Draft class. He did not get to hear his name called on any of the three days of the draft. He has bounced around the NFL from the Cleveland Browns to the Arizona Cardinals to now the Texans.
Nelson signed with the Texans on January 11, 2016. It was a minor move that was not talked about until training camp months later- when Nelson’s lateral quickness and overall agility took over.
The majority of the 2016 season saw Nelson flying around on special teams on his way to 11 tackles-mainly as a gunner in punt formations.
In limited snaps defensively however, Nelson showed burst and promise.
In a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, Nelson intercepted quarterback Garrett Grayson in the end zone to end the game. His play-making ability in big situations translated directly to an NFL game two months later.
Nelly-Prime has shown up in limited time.
With the Texans down 13-3 to their rivaled Indianapolis Colts before the half, Nelson made a big play.
The Colts, led by quarterback Andrew Luck, had been driving down the field in a quick two minute drill. They were already on the 32 yard line and getting ready to inflict more damage.
A first down would have meant almost a sure-fire field goal for the Colts. With one timeout and thirty-three seconds left on the clock, they had their eyes set on a touchdown instead.
As the fifth defensive back on the field, Nelson was targeted by Luck across the middle.
Luck stepped up and threw a low and away ball to a diving T.Y. Hilton. Nelson used his elite quickness and closing speed to undercut Hilton, a wide receiver known for those traits, and recorded the key interception. Hilton was in disbelief of the play, which you can see here.
The Texans wound up winning in overtime 26-23.
If Nelson does not make that play, the Texans most likely lose that game.
That is a game defining player by the Texans’ fifth string cornerback on the Colts number one receiver.
Maybe 21 is a sacred number for play makers.
Players that wear the number 21 are prime. Maybe they are even prime-time.
Former Texans’ cornerback A.J. Bouye went from number 34 to number 21 last season. He proceeded to ball out and earn himself a loaded 5 year, $67 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This year, Robert Nelson has switched his jersey from 32 to 21–and he showed some big play ability early on in OTA’s.
The Texans’ own John Harris wrote the following in his “21 observations from Texans OTAs” about Nelson:
"1. There must be something about the number 21 because last year A.J. Bouye put it on during OTAs and he had a banner 2016 campaign. Hopefully, the same can happen with Robert Nelson. Known as Nelly Prime, Nelson changed to 21 this offsesason and made plays all day long. There’s little question that he’s key to the secondary’s continued development. This group needs an additional guy to step up and on Tuesday that was Nelson. His speed was evident and like Bouye last year, he was tested consistently. Yet, Nelson stood up to those tests – short, medium and deep."
Deion Sanders himself broke down just what a number can do for a player:
Nelson has all the opportunities in front of him.
With the departure of Bouye to Jacksonville and the potential move of Kareem Jackson to safety, the Texans’ depth at cornerback has been depleted.
The only sure-fire corners ahead of Nelson would be veteran Jonathan Joseph and third-year man Kevin Johnson.
Both Joseph and Johnson have had nicks that have kept them from starting all sixteen games during the last two years. That leaves a real possibility for the former Arizona State corner to get even more playing time and possibly start.
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Even if those two have a clean 2017 season free of injuries, Nelson will have ample opportunities to show out. Former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel emphasized keeping players fresh throughout games.
Crennel would rotate cornerbacks around a lot last season.
There is no reason the switch from Crennel to current defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel will change that.
The Texans have a loaded defense full of stars, and Nelson could be ready to join them with his style of play and talent next season. Look for twenty-one to be flying around and making plays like he has has been, just on a larger scale.