With Houston Texans rookies just five days away from reporting to training camp, I thought I would start a series of round tables with the rest of the BRB masthead to get a sense of where expectations lie for all of these wide-eyed young Texans. Reviews for Houston’s 2015 draft class were generally positive, with most pundits and BRBers being overwhelmingly happy with the acquisitions of Kevin Johnson and Jaelen Strong in particular. Hell, I couldn’t believe that Johnson was still even available at 16th overall in the first place, considering how highly he graded out among my Top 40 Prospects of 2015, so I feel like he is as good of a place as any to start in this exercise. What say you, BRB crew? What should we expect from K-Jo in his first year in the pros?
The Texans drafted the best player available in cornerback Kevin Johnson with pick 16. That is especially true since running back Todd Gurley was taken 10th overall, and San Diego jumped right in front of Houston to snag running back Melvin Gordon. There's no way to know where the Texans graded those two running backs on their draft board, but Kevin Johnson may have been the best cornerback in the draft; and Houston picked him while other teams rushed into a frenzy on wide receivers. You simply can't have enough cornerback talent in the NFL.
I'm sure the Texans will prefer easing Kevin Johnson into action his first season while he hones his craft under mentors Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. His situation is somewhat similar to Bradley Roby in 2014 with the Denver Broncos, as Roby was moved around inside (slot) and on the outside while being mentored by two All-Pro defenders in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. Like most rookie cornerbacks in this pass-heavy league, Roby struggled at times and had a dreadful six-game stretch where he was burned for a touchdown pass in each of those contests. Roby wrapped up the season with a strong finish and some huge plays along the way for the Broncos: 65 tackles, 1 sack, 13 passes defended, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
I would suggest that Kevin Johnson's floor for 2015 would be similar to how Roby performed in 2014, and a slight chance that he does even better his first year with the Texans as he gets up to speed.
He's the third corner, though I expect some first team run based on the fact that Joseph is hurt on a weekly basis. He'll play fine, though not transcendently. I think if I'd known Joseph was getting a new contract I'd be even more confused by the pick on a pure positional basis, and I think there's some chance Bud Dupree becomes the latest lamented almost-Texan while Mercilus continues to flop around. But that doesn't make Johnson an unwise selection.
With Jonathan Joseph on the wrong side of 30, Kevin Johnson was picked with the future in mind. That said, with Joseph's injury history, Johnson is likely to see plenty of snaps in 2015. Hopefully, Johnson can use 2015 to build a foundation, taking over for Joseph on the outside in 2016 while Joseph slides inside to slot CB.
That said, it would've been nice to grab a pass rusher with this pick as I'm tired of watching Whitney Mercilus flail, but, with the talent at hand, Joseph's selection was thoughtful and rational.
Considering that nickel packages are basically the "new base defense" in today’s NFL, I anticipate K-Jo getting a ton of play time as a rookie. A.J. Bouye will of course still be in the picture as a dime cornerback and semi-capable injury insurance for any of the top three corners, but 2015 will likely be the start of Johnathan Joseph grooming Johnson just as he did for Kareem Jackson a few years back. In terms of how Johnson will perform in his heavy volume of snaps, I expect him to be one of the few corners to come into the league and hit the ground running right away. He was extraordinarily polished as a 7X1 off corner coming out of Wake Forest, and his pre-existing skillset and fundamentals both fit Romeo Crennell’s system like a glove. Johnson and Marcus Peters will both be an absolute joy to watch as rookies – I promise you that.
Feel free to post your own expectations for Kevin Johnson's rookie year in the comments. With any luck at least one of us will make an accurate prediction or two, right?