Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans 2020 Offseason Position Preview: Cornerbacks

2020 could be the first season in a long time with no Johnathan Joseph.
2020 could be the first season in a long time with no Johnathan Joseph. Photo by Eric Sauseda
OK, previewing Houston Texans position groups the last week or so has  been largely fun and games. Sure, other than quarterback (we love you, Deshaun!), none of the groups are perfect, but they are all largely average, at worst, and near elite (or at least containing elite players), at best. Now we are at cornerback, and this is where the conversation about this team starts to get, shall we say, UNCOMFORTABLE.

The cornerback position was the Achilles heel of the defense in the second half of the season in 2019. Sure, it got almost no help from the pass rush, but from about the beginning of the season, O'Brien was making moves to cobble together a moderately capable group. Injuries, age, and underperformance were the words of the day more often than not with the cornerbacks.

There are probably way more than three questions to get to about this group, but we will keep it at three for now. Here are three burning questions on the Texans cornerback depth chart:

Is this the end of the line for Johnathan Joseph?
It would seem so. The best cornerback in Texans history, an absolute warrior when it comes to playing through injuries, was more banged up than usual in 2019. In the playoff game at Kansas City, he dressed for the game, and didn't see the field. Considering how badly Patrick Mahomes was toying with the Texans' secondary from the second quarter on, that's telling. It's been largely assumed that when his playing days are over, Joseph has a job waiting for him, in some capacity, with the Texans. He's been considered a sort of player-coach the last few seasons, so maybe that's been his apprenticeship, and he joined the staff in 2020. Regardless, I stand by my prediction that the next Texans player to go into the team's Ring of Honor will be Johnathan Joseph.

Can Gareon Conley play like a 2017 first round pick?
Among the "spitballing" type moves that general manager O'Brien made in-season to try to fortify cornerback, the trade of a third round pick (the pick acquired in the Jadeveon Clowney trade) for Conley was the one that worked out okay. (The waiver wire pickup of Vernon Hargreaves didn't work out quite as well.) Conley, a 2017 first round pick, is still under the cost control of his rookie deal for two more seasons. If he can get some help from the pass rush, and build on his improvement after coming over from Oakland, then this could be an O'Brien success story. Right now, assuming Bradley Roby leaves in free agency (see, I told you there was WAY more than three questions in this group!), Conley is the top cornerback on this team. The Texans cannot go into the season with Conley as their best corner, they just can't.

Is this where the Texans decide to go with the 57th overall pick?
Cornerback is absolutely a target with the 57th overall pick. In fact, I would venture to say that, along with outside linebacker, it is the favorite position to be drafted in the second round by Bill O'Brien. This would give the Texans a cornerback depth chart with two second round picks used in the last two drafts at that spot (Lonnie Johnson in 2019). Among the names that could be available at 57th overall — C.J. Henderson of Florida, Kristian Fulton of LSU, A.J. Terrell of Clemson, and Cameron Dantzler of Mississippi State.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast