Very few position groups on the Houston Texans have as many question marks as the current cornerback room. While Houston was lucky to retain Bradley Roby this offseason, opposite him, covering the slot, and backing him up are a number of unknowns. Gareon Conley has a ton of potential, but has yet to capitalize on his first round draft status. Lonnie Johnson Jr. did his best to have the worst rookie season of a cornerback in Houston history last year—despite going 54th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft—earning a PFF grade of just 36.0, placing him 75th best in the league in receptions allowed and 88th in tackling. Vernon Hargreaves III isn’t much better despite being drafted 11th overall by the Bucs in 2016.
If new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver could call up one of the guys listed below in their prime, things would look a lot rosier when Houston takes the field next.
#5 Aaron Glenn
Your Houston Texans grabbed Aaron Glenn, the former first round draft pick of the New York Jets, in the 2002 NFL Expansion Draft. Glenn rewarded the Texans with a trip to the 2002 Pro Bowl. Over the course of the next three years, Glenn started 43 of 48 possible games at left cornerback, generating 166 combined tackles, 141 solos stops, 44 passes defensed, 11 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns. The Texans ultimately released Glenn in the 2005 offseason due to salary cap issues but re-signed him on a one-day deal in 2010 so Glenn could retire with his hometown team.
#4 Kareem Jackson
A lot of fans had a love/hate relationship with the former Alabama Crimson Tide hitman; some had more of a hate/hate relationship with him. Jackson and another player on this list made up one of the best cornerback tandems the Houston Texans have ever fielded. Oddly enough, Jackson didn’t truly flourish until his final year, when Romeo Crennel moved him to a hybrid cornerback/safety role, allowing Jackson to freelance a bit more. Unfortunately, when it came time to re-up in the 2019 offseason, the Texans braintrust didn’t even make Jackson an offer, deciding to move on without him - or apparently any plan to replace his production (another of the questionable O’Brien era roster moves). Jackson went on to punish Houston by having a career game against the Texans when they faced the Broncos in 2019.
Over his nine seasons in Houston, Jackson started 124 of a possible 144 games, contributed a combined 559 tackles, 468 solo stops, 22 tackles for loss, 16 interceptions returned for 336 yards, 6 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 3 touchdowns.
#3 A.J. Bouye
An undrafted rookie free agent signed in the 2013 offseason, Bouye would join running back Arian Foster in “Look at me now!” category of UDFAs who shined at NRG Stadium. While it took him a hot minute to get going, Bouye embraced the ‘next man up’ opportunity in his fourth season in Houston when starter Kevin Johnson went down with a broken foot. By the time the 2016 season was over, the Texans were AFC South Champions, thanks in part to Bouye, who contributed 63 combined tackles, 43 solo stops, 2 tackles for loss, 16 passes defensed, multiple ones fell into the open hands of Quintin Demps, and one interception.
Despite igniting a fever pitch passion in the fan base with the 2016 performance, Bouye (one of the most sought after free agents of the 2017 offseason) left the Texans to sign with division rival Jacksonville Jaguars. Many point to this being the first of many bad personnel decisions made with head coach Bill O’Brien’s fingerprints on it; it didn’t cast a good light on then-general manager Rick Smith either.
Bouye would end his time in Houston having participated in 50 games, starting 11 in his final season with the team. He contributed 140 combined tackles, 117 solo stops, 32 passes defensed, 6 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. No doubt that if Bouye had remained in battle red, he’d higher on this list, as he went on to start 43 games with the Jaguars, bringing 175 combined tackles, 149 solo stops, 8 interceptions and 34 passes defensed over his three-year career in Florida.
#2 Dunta Robinson
Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Robinson is arguably the best cornerback the Texans have ever drafted. In fact, this pick earned a #10 spot on BFD’s Top 10 Draft Successes back in 2011. While his days in Houston ended amidst “all about the Benjamins” talk, Robinson let his body of work speak on the field.
Starting 79 of a possible 96 games over his six years with the Texans, Robinson brought a combined 397 tackles, 333 solo stops, 63 passes defensed, 16 tackles for loss, 13 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 1 touchdown. Any opposing quarterback or wide receiver who didn’t account for Robinson on any given play was sure to pay the price.
#1 Johnathan Joseph
Just as Robinson is on the best draft picks list, Johnathan Joseph is on the best free agent signings list - and is arguably #1 on that list as well.
A first round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, Joseph started nine games his rookie year before solidifying his grasp on a starter spot the next season. Houston grabbed Joseph and Danieal Manning in the 2011 offseason to rebuild one of the worst defenses in the league. Along with some rookie defensive lineman named J.J. Watt, they did just that, moving from 30th overall to 4th overall in a single year.
Partnering with Kareem Jackson, Joseph seemed to finally find his home in the pros, with Jackson and Joseph developing a relationship not unlike brothers, often finishing each other’s sentences and exchanging communication with nothing but a glance. That’s the sort of chemistry cornerbacks need, and these two had it in spades.
Although Texans let Joseph walk away earlier this offseason as a free agent (and he’d sign a one-year deal with the Titans), Joseph brought 482 combined tackles, 421 solo stops, 118 passes defensed, 17 interceptions, 8 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 touchdowns during his Texans career. While an argument can be made that Joseph has lost a step in the last season or so, I still think he’s a better option than Hargreaves or last year’s version of Lonnie Johnson Jr.; unfortunately, we’ll never get a chance to see the reality of that on the field.
Like a few other lists in this series, it’s somewhat depressing culling through the combined cornerback information of the Houston Texans over the last 18 years. Considering the Texans needed three starting corners every year for 18 years, that’s 54 season openings for a solid starting corner. With the idea that three of these guys have been gone for a decade or more, one really was only used to his potential in one season, and another was let go without even so much as a hometown discount offer to stay, it seems pretty clear no one on Kirby Drive understands the value of a cornerbacks in the 21st century NFL, where passing attacks are all the rage and guys like T.Y. Hilton are allowed to take up residence anywhere they choose in the NRG end zone.
Hopefully, Roby and Conley will elevate their game this year and fight their way onto this list the next time around. Hopefully, rookie John Reid can be the next A.J. Bouye to rise up and make people take notice. Time will tell...
There you have it, the latest in the Top Five series. If you missed the previous entries, here they are:
What do you think of this list? Dead-on? Miss someone? Think Brice McCain was the second coming of Charles Woodson? Give us your thoughts.