Sean Pendergast

Former Houston Texans First Round CB Kevin Johnson Retires From Football

Kevin Johnson, the rare failed Texans first round pick, retired from football on Friday.
Kevin Johnson, the rare failed Texans first round pick, retired from football on Friday. Photo by Eric Sauseda
We know the National Football League, in the wake of the destructive natural disaster that was the Bill O'Brien Era, is littered with former Houston Texans, some performing at All Pro levels (what up, Hopkins!) and some mucking their way to getting a paycheck each week. There is no shame in either career modality, you are what you are in the NFL.

One of the former Texans who had probably been largely forgotten by Texans fans, but who was set to be on his third team since leaving the squad in 2018 was former first round pick, cornerback Kevin Johnson. After getting cut by the Texans following another injury-riddled season in 2018, he went on to become a Buffalo Bill in 2019, a Cleveland Brown in 2020, and was all set for a season reunited with Mike Vrabel in Tennessee in 2021.

Then came this news on Friday afternoon:

I suppose this shouldn't come as a major shock. Johnson dealt with injuries throughout his career, not just as a Texan, but at other stops as well. Concussion issues were part of that, and that changes the calculus on everything, when it comes to balancing a multimillion dollar salary with the possibility of dementia while you're still a relatively spry human being.

Johnson opted for retirement, and good for him. That said, his legacy in Houston is noteworthy and a tad complex. Let's examine it:

Kevin Johnson was not your classic first round bust
The Texans chose to cut Johnson before his fifth year option kicked in, so by definition, he likely falls into the "bust" category as a first round pick. However, let the record reflect that Johnson was a decent, if not above average, player up until he broke his foot in a Week 6 Sunday night win over the Indianapolis Colts. In his rookie year, he had a PFR Approximate Value of 4, which is quite serviceable for a rookie. That Sunday night against the Colts might have been his best game as a pro, with ten tackles, a TFL, and a pass defended. Johnson was never the same after that injury, as he was ineffective in 2017, and injured for all but one game in 2018.

Kevin Johnson is an historical outlier for the Houston Texans
If you look at the Texans history going back to 2007, the one thing that they have been VERY good at, mostly under former GM Rick Smith, is drafting in the first round of the NFL Draft. Here are the Texans' first round picks going back to 2008, and thumbnail summary of each of their Texan careers:

2008, DUANE BROWN: 1st team All Pro left tackle in 2012
2009: BRIAN CUSHING: Defensive Rookie of the Year
2010: KAREEM JACKSON: Solid 9 year career with the Texans
2011: J.J. WATT: 3-time Defensive Player of the Year
2012: WHITNEY MERCILUS: Solid Texans career (even with the bad contract extension)
2013: DeANDRE HOPKINS: 3-time 1st team All Pro
2014: JADEVEON CLOWNEY: 3-time Pro Bowler
2016: WILL FULLER: Injury riddled x-factor, game changer when healthy
2017: DESHAUN WATSON: Franchise quarterback (with major legal issues)
2019: TYTUS HOWARD: Solid enough so far, TBD

In other words, Johnson is the only first round pick since Amobi Okoye in 2007 to really qualify as a "bust." If anything, rehashing the Texans' history in the first round of the draft provides further frustration for where they are now, because it reads like a "who's who" in players the Texans have alienated over the last four seasons — Brown, Jackson, Watt, Hopkins, Clowney, Watson. Let's move on....

Who should have been the pick in 2015?
If the Texans could do it al over again, who would they have taken instead of Johnson in the 2015 draft? Well, if cornerback were viewed as a need (which I'm not sure it was, with Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph under contract, Johnson felt like a "best player available" pick) then Marcus Peters two picks later or Byron Jones, who went later in the first round, would have made more sense. If it were best player available at another position, then second round picks like safety Landon Collins, tackle Donovan Smith, or even Johnson's Texans teammate Benardrick McKinney would have been better picks, in retrospect.

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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