The Houston Texans need for a cornerback to step up and separate from the pack. They should be encouraged by what they have seen from Lonnie Johnson.
The Houston Texans have struggled to find a starting-caliber cornerback across from Johnathan Joseph since A.J. Bouye signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 free agency period. Texans were comfortable letting Bouye walk away with the idea of having Kevin Johnson step up, but they were proven wrong as they eventually waived Johnson due to injury concerns.
Johnson struggled to consistently stay healthy in the past four seasons and did not live up to the billing as the first-round pick the Texans invested in him in 2015. Texans had legitimate concerns moving into the 2019 season in their secondary with the departure of Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson in free agency. Having Aaron Colvin struggling due to injury in his first season after being one of the Texans main additions through the 2018 free agency also raised significant red flags.
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Texans drafted Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson, with their second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft with the intention of having him shoring up that position. Johnson played in the SEC and was originally a 5-star receiver out of high school, but made the transition to cornerback. Johnson will have every opportunity through the preseason to earn one of the top spots on the depth chart.
The early reports on Johnson have actually been overall positive, besides being briefly sidelined due to injury. Johnson has worked against veteran receivers such as DeAndre Hopkins and has not backed down from the challenge, as noted by Aaron Wilson.
We even got a glimpse of the two going back and forth one-on-one, courtesy of ESPN 97.5’s Cody Stoots.
There is not much Johnson can do to defend a perfect throw. Hopkins caught a great back-shoulder throw from Deshaun Watson. Hopkins is going to win his fair share of drills, especially against a rookie cornerback, but Johnson has done as good as a rookie can perform versus Hopkins.
Johnson will only improve lining up opposite arguably the best receiver in the league. Stoots later noted that Johnson “won a rep against Hopkins via solid technique and being physical”, which is even more exciting to hear since Hopkins is one of the most stronger receivers in the league.
So much of playing the cornerback position is having the confidence to line up against the best of the best, and for a rookie to already have that self-confidence is very promising.
As much praise as Johnson has received there were also complaints of Johnson “hitting too hard” during a light session against the Green Bay Packers, eventually leading to a skirmish. The Packers were upset and spoke out against Johnson afterward.
Although an argument can be made that he should not make those type of hits on the practice field, not every cornerback is willing to lower his shoulder against a big receiving target like Jace Sternberger.
It is possible that he should not have showboated afterward, but self-confidence and swagger are necessary to play cornerback at the NFL level. It’s what made the likes of Deion Sanders, Richard Sherman, and Jalen Ramsey such great cornerbacks.
The Texans should be embracing the competitive fire Johnson has shown because they desperately need someone to step up.