The Texans may not be able to add a franchise-changing, locker-room altering, Hall of Fame caliber secondary player in the draft this year, but they will be looking to add someone who can be developed and contribute to the defense for years to come. Over the last five years, the Texans have drafted six defensive backs: D.J. Swearinger, Andre Hal, Lonnie Ballentine, Kevin Johnson, K.J. Dillon, and Treston Decoud. Hal is the diamond in the rough of this group since he was drafted in the seventh round and has been Houston’s starting safety for the past three years. D.J., Lonnie, and K.J. Dillon really never contributed while Kevin Johnson and Treston Decoud still have a lot to prove.
The recent lack of draft success has made the Texans content to have Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph to hold down the secondary. Even A.J. Bouye was not able to shake the Texans’ hierarchy of defensive back continuity. Now, the Texans has had to lean on free agency to fill in the gaps. Still, this year, like many in the past, the Texans will address depth at the secondary positions through the draft.
The Texans currently have three selections in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Picks 68, 80, and 98 are at their disposal. Yesterday, I told you which DBs the team should avoid with those picks. Today, I give you four defensive backs I think they should target in the draft in the third round.
Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest
He may be billed a tad higher than the Texans’ draft position, but only having two years of college experience may drop his stock that the Texans can take advantage of . His speed and acceleration are not elite, but he demonstrates excellent awareness. NFL.com mentions that Bates is a “versatile safety option with the athletic ability to handle man coverage responsibilities” which fits the bill for a Texans safety.
At 6’1”, 200 lbs., Bates has the ball skills and anticipation that will be necessary to thrive at the next level. He played his best games against Florida State in their three meetings. Bates plays a good centerfield and would most likely rotate with Andre Hal if selected. His agility and playmaking ability also come through as a punt returner, but I do not think he would be the first option for any team. Killing the NFL Combine with great performances in the three-cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, and 60 yard shuttle have pushed him up many draft boards. Looking at mock drafts, Bates would be a mandatory pick for the Texans at the 68th selection if he is available.
Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
He may not be the former Raiders’ running back with the same name, but this Marcus Allen sure does have a nose for the football. NFL-tough and technically sound, Allen is a robust nickel safety who can thrive playing in the box. I love how he drives his feet when he makes tackles - a capability not many safeties acquire in college. He does not present the jaw-dropping secondary stats (only one interception in his four years at Penn State), but he brings an aggression and consistency to the defense.
He really is not a sideline to sideline safety and he can get abused by faster receivers, but if you watch the highlight tape above, you will witness a fearless tackler. The Texans really really need more of those. Houston’s defense and Romeo Crennel’s schemes can mask some of his deficiencies and accentuate his natural talents. I would love if the Texans nabbed Allen with either the 80th or 98th selection.
M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina
Usually, the best player on a bad team does not mean much. This past year was a transition year for the Tar Heels, and M.J. Stewart held the ship together throughout a tough season. Playing mostly nickel corner, Stewart is a versatile option in the secondary.
The commentators in the video above gush about his leadership and tenacity. Stewart’s biggest weakness is covering tight ends and wide receivers who can stretch the field. I would like to see him improve on his man coverage, particularly when he needs to adjust his hips to break on a route. He also has a tendency to lower his head when going in for a tackle. He is among the best in the class, however, at getting his hands on receivers to disrupt their route. Game film throughout his college career displays a developing corner with a passion for the game. Stewart reminds me of Teez Tabor coming out of Florida last year. A low center of gravity helps him bring down running backs when playing the run. Stewart’s NFL Combine performance was good but not great, and he is projected to go in the late third round. Stewart would add immediate special teams hustle for the Texans.
Christian Campbell, CB, Penn State
I am a bigger fan than some of Campbell. I see him as a prototypical NFL corner with the size and speed to compete with all kinds of opposing receivers. He did not play in the Senior Bowl and only did the bench press at the NFL Combine, which has left some scouts wary of drafting him. Nevertheless, the internet (for how reliable it is) continually labels him as a “sleeper” pick. He lunges for tackles and aims for feet like Kevin Johnson does. His other main fault is an absence of twitchy athleticism that can save a cornerback.
Campbell does do a great job of pushing corners to the boundary, which forces the QB to throw into a tighter window than anticipated. He accomplishes this by keeping balanced leverage against the receiver when covering him downfield. Campbell’s long arms are his biggest weapon against receivers, as he loves to break up passes at the last moment. He only had a couple of interceptions in his collegiate career, but Campbell has slowly improved each year and should be worth taking a look at in the third round.
Bill O’Brien is due for a Nittany Lion selection, and I think he may break the seal with either Marcus Allen or Christian Campbell this year. Outside of this list, a ton of mock drafts including Mel Kiper Jr.’s, have us taking Anthony Averett from Alabama. I think he would be a great fit for the Texans, maybe a bit better than Christian Campbell would be. However I think some team will fall in love with Averett in the second round, and I do not see his ceiling being as high as Campbell or the other three players listed here.
Marcus Allen is my most likely Texan because his draft stock is nestled in between many of our third and fourth round selections. He also provides the versatility and tackling strength that the Texans require out of their safeties.