Houston Texans: Breaking down cornerback competition

Gareon Conley #22 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Gareon Conley #22 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans have a competitive group of cornerbacks heading into the 2020 NFL season.

The Houston Texans are entering this upcoming season with a relatively young group after Johnathan Joseph departed in the offseason. Joseph spent nine seasons in Houston and was the longest-tenured Texan in the secondary remaining after Kareem Jackson signed with the Denver Broncos in the 2019 free agency period.

Now the Texans will be moving forward with Bradley Roby, Gareon Conley, Lonnie Johnson, John Reid, Keion Crossen, Vernon Hargreaves III, Phillip Gaines, Cornell Armstrong, and Anthony Chesley. Their oldest cornerback on the roster is Gaines, who turned 29 this past April, and the average age of the entire cornerback group for next season is 25.

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The current group of cornerbacks was on the active roster or formed part of the practice squad last season, with the lone exception being John Reid, who was selected by the Texans in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

With the overall youth across the board, Bradley Roby is one of the leaders in the cornerback room after becoming the highest-paid cornerback on the Texans roster. Roby inked a three-year deal worth $36 million, and he will be a tremendous asset to the defense with his ability to teach some of the younger players the intricacies of the cornerback position.

Roby has taken it to the next level as he and Texans star safety Justin Reid have been training together in the offseason. Talking to Reid, he expressed that he expected a lot from the cornerback group heading into this upcoming season, and to look forward to Johnson and Conley in their second year in Houston’s defense. Both players have the tools and work ethic to have a better second year.

Having Roby as the number one corner, it eases the pressure on Conley and Johnson to find their place in the Texans’ secondary. An NFL defense can never have enough talented cornerbacks on the roster with injuries being a byproduct of this sport, and it proved to take a toll on the Texans throughout the 2019 season.

Injuries pushed Houston towards acquiring Conley from the Oakland Raiders last season for Seattle Seahawks 2020 third-rounder they received in the Jadeveon Clowney trade. That pick turned out to be a great trade chip as Conley showed a lot of promise in his eight games with the Texans. Conley had his best year in the league despite having limited knowledge of the playbook.

He allowed 24 catches on the 46 times he was thrown for two touchdowns and 299 yards. However, he had an 87.1 passer rating allowed when targeted, which is the best of his career since entering the league as the Raiders’ 2017 first-round selection.

The Texans have a talented group of cornerbacks in Roby, Conley, Johnson, and Reid heading into the 2020 season. They have cornerbacks capable of holding their own as they move to a scheme that can handle press-man coverage.

The fifth and possibly final spot could be decided between Crossen and Hargreaves III. The one with the most untapped upside out of the two is clearly Hargreaves III after he was drafted with the 11th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

However, Crossen holds an advantage over Hargreaves III as the more proven player that can contribute on special teams. Hargreaves III will have to prove he can play on special teams also if he hopes to latch onto the backend of the roster, and possibly form part of the Texans rotation in the secondary.

It will be interesting to see whether Texans bring in only five cornerbacks or if they decide to bring one more if Hargreaves III proves to be too good to be let go. An offseason to learn the defense could work wonders for Hargreaves III after he was claimed off waivers towards the latter half of the regular season by the Texans.

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Gaines, Armstrong, and Chesley are other cornerbacks that could push the Texans’ hand with a strong offseason, but the cornerback group is relatively stronger than in previous seasons.