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Derek Stingley Jr.: Will Fuller v2022?

The similarities might be more than Deja Vu.

NFL: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman got a lot of love from Texans fans and mock drafters, projecting him as Houston’s #1 pick in the 21st slot. As we’ve seen all too often, another team grabbed Coleman ahead of the Texans - that team just so happens to be the Cleveland Browns. And, afterward the Texans took the “next best thing” in Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller V.

At the time, there was a fair amount of disappointment that the Texans had lost out on Coleman and settled for Fuller, who entered the league with major durability questions that didn’t provide too many warm and fuzzy feelings for those putting the speedster under the microscope.

Over the course of the next five seasons, Fuller V caught 209 passes for 3110 yards, 24 touchdowns and an average yards per catch of 14.9. All this while missing 25 games due to various injuries.

Fuller’s Houston career was the epitome of boom and bust all at once. When he was on the field, watch out. Fuller could score from anywhere as long as his quarterback could get him the ball. When Fuller was sidelined with one of his various physical issues, the offense looked entirely different.

Coleman lasted two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, before one with the New York Giants on his way to an early exit from the NFL. In those three years, the former Texans draft target caught 61 passes for 789 yards, 5 touchdowns and a 12.9 yards per catch average.

Despite immediate draft day reactions, the Texans got the better player. Even with Fuller’s unending injury issues, he was a key part of multiple AFC South Division Championships and a host of highlight reel plays.

Fast forward to 2022. Rumors swirled that the Texans were targeting a cornerback with the third overall pick. Many, including myself, wanted the Texans to nab Cincinnati Bearcat Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Instead, the Texans went down a familiar road, grabbing oft-injured LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr.

Gardner, like Coleman in 2016, ended up with a wildly underperforming franchise in the New York Jets. While the Browns have slowly built away from the 2016 basement dwellers that selected Coleman, the Jets haven’t been relevant since Joe Namath road off on his rhinestone encrusted horse in the early 1970s. Yes, my heart broke for Sauce when the Jets selected him... hopefully he can escape to a better team before New York ruins him.

Anyhow, the object of Houston’s draft love, Derek Stingley Jr. comes with the same amount of injury concerns that Fuller had coming out of college.

The Sporting News

Sept. 26, 2020 — Stingley is forced to miss the season opener vs. Mississippi State. Per an official LSU statement, he became “acutely ill” the night prior and was hospitalized.

Oct. 10, 2020 — Stingley injures his ankle in a “freak accident” vs. Missouri. He is able to play through the injury but is not at 100 percent.

Nov. 21, 2020 — Stingley appears to hit his head at the end of a punt midway through the third quarter vs. Arkansas, causing him to miss the remainder of the game.

Dec. 5, 2020 — Stingley suffers another sprained ankle against Alabama. The lingering effects of the injury cause him to miss the final two games of the season, vs. Florida and Ole Miss.

2021 preseason — Stingley sprains his foot. He plays through the “painful” injury in the first three games.

Sept. 26, 2021 — Stingley aggravates his foot sprain in the week leading up to the Mississippi State game (later discovered to be a Lisfranc injury). He undergoes surgery, ending his season and career at LSU after having played in just 10 games since his standout freshman season. He is given a recovery timeline of four to six months.

Jan. 6, 2022 — Stingley officially declares for the 2022 NFL Draft.

March 6, 2022 — Stingley declines to compete in defensive back drills at NFL Combine. He wants to be at 100 percent for LSU’s pro day.

April 6, 2022 — Stingley participates in LSU’s pro day. In addition to going through defensive back drills, he registers a 4.37 40-yard dash, a 38 1/2-inch vertical leap and a 10-2 broad jump.

Sounds a lot like Fuller... in fact, in his final two NCAA campaigns, Stingley Jr. was only available for 10 games. Fuller missed 10 games for the Texans over his final two seasons in H-Town.

Old Ball Coach

Your greatest ability is your availability.

Optimists are calling this the greatest Houston draft in ages, with Stingley as the poster child for future Texans glory.

Pessimists are calling this a draft riddled with reaches and unnecessary gambles on players with more question marks than undeniable proof of success.

Odds are, the reality will fall somewhere in between, with some players overachieving and some underwhelming.

Stingley Jr. is likely to embody both of those things all at once. During his high points, he’ll create Sportscenter worthy plays that will electrify the fanbase and put fear in opposing quarterbacks. During the lows, he’ll either play poorly due to nagging injuries or not suit up at all for games on end.

Like Will Fuller before him, Stingley Jr. is likely to excite and disappoint again and again and again.

One of the true conundrums of NFL Draft coverage is the overwhelming desire to grade the draft as soon as it happens, and the utter lack of interest in grading it once there’s enough on field data years later to do so.

In 2027, it will be interesting to look back and see how Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner performed over their first five years of NFL employment. Will they both make it that far? Will one be a pro bowler while the other a failure to live up to his potential? One a Fuller V and the other a Coleman? Only time will tell.