Houston Texans building deep cornerback competition

The Houston Texans are building an intriguing cornerback competition entering the 2020 season.

The Houston Texans have made a concerted effort in addressing their secondary in the early portion of free agency. Houston added defensive backs, Jaylen Watkins, from the Los Angeles Chargers and Eric Murray from the Cleveland Browns. Both defenders have a background playing the cornerback position and could offer the Texans much-needed competition in the secondary.

The Texans also re-signed Bradley Roby, Phillip Gaines, and brought back Vernon Hargreaves III; Hargreaves will return on a one year deal after he was waived before the fifth-year option on his contract became guaranteed.

Texans have Gareon ConleyLonnie Johnson, Keion Crossen, Cornell Armstrong, and Anthony Chesley already under contract for the upcoming season. With no first-round pick in this draft and a subpar cornerback class after Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson, Texans could already have the majority of their structure at cornerback in place to compete for a spot on the 53 man roster for this upcoming season.

Roby and Conley are the early favorites to be the starting duo at cornerback. Conley quickly earned the confidence of the coaching staff and begun to see playing time in the first team with Roby over Johnathan Joseph towards the end of last season.

Given that the Texans traded a third-rounder to acquire Conley, Houston invested a valuable trade asset to see what they had in a former 2017 first-rounder before deciding if they exercise the fifth-year option on his contract or let him walk in 2021.

Although the starting spot won’t just be handed to Conley, Lonnie Johnson Jr. will also have a chance to compete for the second spot on the depth chart. Johnson saw the field early in his rookie season with injuries taking a toll in the secondary, but he saw more time on special teams when Houston acquired Conley from the Oakland Raiders.

Texans could also have a heated battle brewing at slot cornerback with Murray, Hargreaves, Gaines, and Armstrong as the main players vying for playing time on the defense. Murray is projected as the third safety on the depth chart behind Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson, but his background playing in the slot made it appealing for Houston to give him a three-year contract.

Murray has a lot of roles he can fill in the secondary, and his deal reflects that the Texans expect him to be seeing a lot of snaps in the defense. Although Hargreaves has an outside shot to not only earn a roster spot once again but earn playing time in the slot.

Hargreaves was thrown into the fire after he was waived midseason by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and claimed by the Texans. He learned the playbook on the fly and had to develop chemistry with new teammates. Hargreaves had his ups and downs in his first stint in Houston, but this time he will have the entire preseason and training camp to work with the Texans.

The argument on who would be the better cornerback coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft between Jalen Ramsey and Hargreaves is no longer polarizing as it once was. However, Hargreaves has the best shot out of the other defensive backs to push Murray for playing time in the slot.

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Houston will have one of it’s most competitive battles in the secondary that they have had in a long time as younger players are fighting for the opportunity to assume a starting role in the secondary.