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Player Profile: Meet Desmond King

All-American, All-Pro, Now Texan

Houston Texans v Green Bay Packers
With deceptive speed, King can get away from you
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

There are a lot of new faces joining the Texans squad this year. With the salary cap decreasing for the first time in decades, a lot of those new faces opted to sign 1-year deals, in hopes (certainty) that the cap will jump up next year. While we reach the end of training camp and with the beginning of the season slowly creeping up, I figured I would introduce you to a few of those new faces that will be donning the steel blue and battle red come Sundays. First up will be a break down into the game of all-pro corner/punt return and Texan, Desmond King II.

King is from Detroit, MI, where he holds the record for career interceptions (29) and single season rushing yards (2,360) for his high school. Coming out of high school King was a three-star recruit and signed with the Iowa Hawkeyes, where he quickly became a starter. His junior year was his break out campaign; snagging 9 interceptions, consensus All-American honors and the Jim Thorpe award. He was unquestionably the best defensive back in college football. Alongside another future all-pro in George Kittle, King led the Hawkeyes to an undefeated 12-0 regular season and a trip to the 2016 Rose Bowl, where he looked like the only Hawkeye player that belonged in the same stratosphere as Heisman runner up Christian McCaffery (he’s kind of good in the NFL too).

King stayed for his senior year, and opposing teams were too afraid to throw to his side of the field, so he didn’t have the same turnover numbers. It was still enough to earn him 2nd team all-American honors and a season where he truly showed off his return ability. To this day, I still don’t know how he didn’t house a kick in college.

Iowa v Illinois
Desmond King picking off the ball against his future Texans defensive coordinator’s team
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Leaving college and leading up to the draft, King’s draft stock fell due to lack of prototypical size and his “lack of speed” (more on this later). The Los Angeles Chargers grabbed him in the fifth round and he immediately showed to be a good slot/nickel corner in his rookie year. In his second season King showed that he can be an elite nickel cornerback and punt return, by taking a pick and punt return back for touchdowns. That season he earned first team all-pro honors at the nickel corner position and second team all-pro as a returner. In a surprise move, halfway through his third year the Chargers trade him to Tennessee for a sixth-round pick. In his first game as a Titan, King paid dividends with a scoop and score 63-yard touchdown. Talk about ROI

After the 2020 season, King was an unrestricted free-agent and inked a 1-year deal with the Texans worth up to $3.5 million. He joins two fellow Hawkeyes he shared the field with in college, Jaleel Johnson and Christian Kirksey, who also signed 1-year deals with the Texans. It’s almost as if defensive coordinator Lovie Smith learned one thing from his stint in the Big Ten and that was to get Hawkeyes on defense. Speaking of Lovie Smith’s defense, Desmond King looks to be a perfect fit as the nickel/slot defensive back for the Tampa-2 defense, which likes to limit big plays and keep the ball in the middle part of the field, right where King likes to play.

Now for a little break down into what Desmond King does well and his skill set. As I touched on earlier, King does not have the speed of a stereotypical NFL cornerback. But where King makes up for this is his understanding of running lanes and angles on the football field. This allows him to play faster and anticipate where: balls will be thrown, offensive players will run to and the running lanes for a big punt return will be. This is best showcased in his pick-six against Maryland his junior year at Iowa.

Watch as soon as he catches the ball his eyes immediately turn to the quickest lane to get away from people. He finds the hole and hits it with full acceleration and no hesitation. You can see as he gets a good 15-yards down field that his speed begins to top out and a player begins to catch up to him on a good angle. King gives the offensive player turned defender a little baby stiff arm, gaining a little separation, giving him time to analyze the rest of the field. He sees he has a running lane and more space to his right. King then slightly changes his running direction to a different angel to the right, and this minor adjustment is what springs him, 88-yards to the crib. He started off on defense on this play and made it look like the bubble screen was for him.

I don’t know if he learned this during his time as a running back in high school or if it just comes natural to him, but I do know one thing, it’s what gamers do. And if there is one thing to be said about Desmond King II, it’s that he is a gamer. To the definition. And if you don’t think he can do what he did to Maryland in the NFL, you’re wrong. And if you don’t think he can do what he did to Maryland in the NFL, your wrong, because he did the exact same thing to the Steelers in the 4th quarter on a 73-yard punt return back in 2018.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond uses these skills to be one of the most valuable slot/nickel corners in the league, an extremely undervalue position. King is used at his best covering the flat and “in the box”, just outside the hashes and in, about 8-10 yards down field. Where he can get exposed is if he is tasked with covering large wideouts or extremely fast tight-ends down field. He just doesn’t have the arm length or top end speed to be a down field man corner. The guys that do, get paid the top CB1 dollars in the NFL, and might be a reason why such a talented slot corner can go undervalued in the NFL.

King’s value doesn’t just stop in covering the pass game. He is one of the most physical run stopping cornerbacks in the NFL. I’m not talking about stepping up on outside zones or sweeps to make an ankle tackle. I’m talking about, taking on blocks, filling gaps in the trenches and making tackles within the numbers. King uses his skills of analyzing running lanes and his leverage to play like a safety/linebacker combo (kind of like a rover), making him a swiss army knife out there on defense.

Look for first year defensive coordinator, Lovie Smith, to take advantage of these skill sets and come up with various defensive packages with King all over the field. He will need to step up in Brandon Roy’s absence week 1 against Jacksonville and throughout the season making plays as the slot/nickel cornerback. He will also be playing a vital part in setting up the Texans offense, and quite possibly creating some of his own, in the punt game. Best of luck #25, thank you for being a Texan.