Among the huddled mass of unproven commodities (and one Johnathan Joseph) is where rookie corner Xavier Crawford will start his career in the NFL. The Texans’ 2019 sixth round pick out of Central Michigan began his career at Oregon State, where he earned USA Today Freshman All-American honors. Now he moves from Central Michigan to the stage that is the NFL.
With so many new faces in the defensive back room and Houston’s entire depth chart up in the air, Crawford has as good a chance as anyone to instantly contribute in this secondary. The question is where he will be able to contribute the most. In college, Crawford played on the outside, usually covering mid-range routes in man coverage. He was the second best corner on the team as Sean Murphy-Bunting was a second round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Crawford demonstrated good play recognition, which can be attributed to the significant playing time he garnered in college. In his film he is quick off the beat with light footwork but is easily stacked up on deep routes. He is a press cover corner through-and-through, a skill set the Texans deeply lack. The Texans presumably like him for what he is—fluid and scrappy—a lot more than what he is not—sturdy and fast.
Crawford screams “nickel cornerback” louder than me at a Beyoncé concert. His rangy build requires adding about twelve pounds of muscle before he can legitimately stand toe to toe with NFL wide receivers. Crawford is a carbon copy of Kansas City nickel corner Kendall Fuller coming out of the 2016 NFL Draft. They both were lean, easily beaten over the top corners who had the coverage skills to compensate for some of the weaknesses in their game. If the Texans can get as much out of Crawford as the Redskins and Chiefs have gotten out our Fuller, they will most certainly improve on a secondary that was 28th worst in the NFL in terms of passing yards.
Even if Crawford makes the move inside, he will need to completely alter his playing style and body composition if he wants to make it onto this roster. It’s analogous to moving from tackle to guard on the offensive line. On its face, it appears to be a simple move to benefit a lesser athlete, but when it comes down to it, playing nickel is a completely different beast than playing on the outside. Run support becomes a priority for a nickel cornerback, as they are usually the player nearest to the box that isn’t a lineman or linebacker. Crawford was knocked in his draft profile for his lack of run help and did not demonstrate an aptitude to shed blocks easily.
The Texans love, with all their heart, drafting secondary players in the late rounds with the hopes of finding their own Richard Sherman (selected in the fifth round). They just can’t develop them. Since 2014, the Texans have drafted Andre Hal, Lonnie Ballentine, K.J. Dillon, Treston Decoud, Jermaine Kelly, and now Xavier Crawford all in the latter portions of the draft. Only Hal worked out from this group.
Yet Crawford may have the best opportunity to start out of that group of late round DBs. The Texans’ secondary is a damsel in distress waiting for a hero to save the day. With Aaron Colvin’s miserable performance in 2018 and no truly proven nickel corner on the roster, Crawford could feasibly sneak past the barrage of pretenders and earn a role in this secondary.
If Crawford can’t remain at outside corner, does safety provide an option, a la Hal? Probably not. Crawford isn’t a bruising player who can cover ground the way a safety has to. He has the instincts to perhaps make the jump, but film study from his 2018 season lends itself to believing he’s more of a true cover corner than a free safety. Coming from a team that went 1-11 does not inspire confidence in Crawford’s coaching and technique, but he has the tools to contribute on the next level.
The obvious answer to where Crawford fits in the Texans’ scheme immediately is on special team. Covering kickoffs, extra points, and punts are all options for Crawford to crack the 53-man roster. If he goes that route, he’d almost certainly take the place of veteran Johnson Bademosi. Other than Bademosi, I’d say newly acquired corners Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Aaron Colvin are Crawford’s biggest competitors for a roster spot at this point in the offseason.
Do you see Crawford making the 53? Or is he bound for the practice squad or perhaps even waivers?