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Derek Stingley Jr.’s Renaissance for the Houston Texans

An analysis of the second-year DB’s phenomenal season .

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

As a bona fide Derek Stingley Jr. cynic, I was unabashedly validated by his maligned rookie season. Particularly, in comparison to that of fellow 2022 draftee CB Sauce Gardner’s campaign with the New York Jets, the Houston Texans appeared to have ‘missed’ with their third overall choice from last year’s draft. With the start of the 2023 season, I was wary about Stingley’s role given the team forked over a sizable contract to Steven Nelson and kept other veterans on the roster. Were they hiding something in between the lines of their favorable offseason reports about Stingley? Couldn't tell.

Once the season began, Stingley Jr. was on his way to confirm my suspicions when he reinjured his hamstring mid-season and ended up on IR until Week 11. At this point, he’d played 11 of a possible 28 games between the two seasons, recorded one lone interception, and been targeted fairly consistently down the field. Not only that, in his first game back against Arizona he let up over 100 receiving yards and a long touchdown. Personally, I had began exclaiming to anyone who could hear that Stingley Jr. had all but busted harder than me at a blackjack table. Houston had once again soiled their top pick and essentially set the team back in their rebuilding process on defense. There has to be a word in the dictionary for being unhappily validated...

Then, when the dye was cast and my heels dug in, Stingley Jr. ripped off three games with four interceptions. He posted a dazzling 92.6 grade on PFF against the Denver Broncos and followed it up with a consistent dominance throughout the end of the season. He’s healthy, determined, and fiercely changing my opinion about him.

Stingley finished the 2023 regular season as one of the most stout cornerbacks in the league. He played almost exclusively on the outside and garnered a passer rating of just 71.6 against opposing QBs.

Stingley Jr. ranks fifth in PFF Coverage Grade for players who played 10 or more games. He’s still behind Sauce Gardner, who was second on the list, but it is a testament to the Texans development of talent via new HC DeMeco Ryans. While the Sauce vs Stingley debate will continue to rage, the gap has closed quite considerably.

Sometimes it takes the combination of what you see on the field and what the stats say to confirm how well a player is doing. If you watch the Texans as closely as I do, you’re quite aware that teams continually to test Stingley Jr. down the field. It’s a sign that they don’t trust his speed given his ongoing hamstring issues. If I were a coach, I’d do the same; use the injury report as the offensive scheme. In terms of the stats, Average Depth of Target, which indicates how far down the field the ball is thrown when he’s covering, was first in the league for anyone in 10 or more games. Combine that with his quality PFF Coverage Grade, it indicates that he was highly affective at thwarting those long passes even when teams continued to try him down the field.

PFF, Derek Stingley 2023 Weekly Pass Coverage Grades

Now, Stingley Jr. gets to play in his first career playoff game. The young, budding star will face off against The Cleveland Browns just 20 days after they scored 34 points on us and WR Amari Cooper had a career and franchise leading day. Cooper scorched Houston for 265 yards and two touchdowns against a Texans defense that couldn’t keep up with the down field pressure. The Texans get a second shot at stymieing Joe Flacco’s high flying passing offense and will need to rely on their most talented cornerback since Jonathan Joseph played the position here.