Houston Texans should be worried about their cornerbacks

Gareon Conley #22, Lonnie Johnson #32 (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Gareon Conley #22, Lonnie Johnson #32 (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Gareon Conley opening the season on IR just puts an even greater onus on the beleaguered Houston Texans defensive back platoon.

In 2019, the Texans allowed 4,276 total yards of opposing offense through the air while Houston was on defense.

That mark was the fourth-worst in the league among all 32 franchises — better than just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, and Detroit Lions.

For further context, Houston’s AFC South rival, the Tennessee Titans, were the only other team from their conference to rank in the bottom-half of this crucial stat category and still make last season’s playoff competition. Tennessee allowed 4,080 aerial yards and ranked 24th.

If the Texans want to return to the postseason and advance to their first-ever conference title game — or even their first-ever Super Bowl appearance — they’ll need to shore up their pass defense… and in a hurry.

This task becomes all the tougher now that Gareon Conley, the former first-round draft pick of the Raiders, is on injured reserve. While Conley largely overwhelmed as a member of the black-and-silver and was anything but stalwart during his first partial season as a Texan last year, his loss still further cripples an already worrisome defensive backs rotation.

Houston will rely on Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. as their starting cornerback tandem. To be clear, this much was probably set in stone even before Conley went down with his injury, as he’d been severely outplayed by Roby and Jonhson during training camp this summer.

Who will be the Houston Texans’ No. 3 CB this season?

The problem for the Texans is who will step up into that third major starting role at CB. Right now, the top candidates are Vernon Hargreaves III, Keion Crossen, John Reid, Cornell Armstrong, and Phillip Gaines.

Hargreaves unquestioningly has the best draft pedigree of those options, as (like Conley) he was a first-round draft pick once upon a time by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, like Conley, Hargreaves has been a major bust since he came into the league, with the low-point of his career coming last November when he was waived unceremoniously by the Bucs.

Crossen and Armstrong are both late-round draft picks from 2018 who have bounced around the league with various teams. Gaines is a veteran who’s been in the NFL since 2014, but he’s also bounced around (the Texans are his fourth team).

Reid probably has the most upside (and hope) attached to him as of this writing. A fourth-round pick this past April out of Penn State, nothing would make Texans coaches and fans happier than to see the rookie step up and assert himself into the No. 3 role among Houston’s cornerbacks.

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Whoever it is, this much is clear: the Texans desperately need more players to step up across the board in their defensive back rotation. Whether they can do just that and batten down the hatches on defense against the pass in 2020 will help determine just how far this Houston team goes.