March 9, 2005
Down on the Corner
by Bob Hulsey
If you believe Houston Chronicle writer John McClain and others, the Houston Texans could take a cornerback with their first-round draft choice, the 13th overall. On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Other than the kickers, cornerback is the most solid position on the team. They have veteran Aaron Glenn, a Pro Bowler just three seasons ago who, at 33, may be starting to decline but is still not a corner most opposing teams care to challenge. On the other side there is Dunta Robinson, last year’s first-rounder who came on after a shaky start to lead the squad in interceptions and receive serious consideration for top defensive rookie honors.
Their third corner is Demarcus Faggins, a young player who has steadily improved from a raw sixth-round choice in 2002 and could be a starter for some other teams. His interception return for a touchdown sealed a win last season against Jacksonville. Jason Simmons and Jason Bell provide additional depth. Free agent Kenny Wright, who saw a lot of action in 2003 as Glenn’s replacement, may also be re-signed. As further insurance, free safety Marcus Coleman was the starting cornerback during the franchise’s first two seasons and has the skills to be pressed into service if needed.
So why would the Texans want a corner in the first round? Simply, because they are there. This is a deep draft for corners. Antrel Rolle (Miami) and Adam "Pac-Man" Jones (West Virginia) are generally regarded as the top two cornerbacks on the board. But other first-round possibilities include Justin Miller (Clemson), Carlos Rogers (Auburn), Brandon Browner (Oregon St.), Marlin Jackson (Michigan) and Fabian Washington (Nebraska). Of course, last year was a deep draft for wide receivers but the Texans did not bite on one until the seventh round so that alone is not a convincing reason to pick a corner.
At 13, the Texans have other needs that could be filled by talented players. Derrick Johnson (Texas) and Shawne Merriman (Maryland) could be chosen as linebackers. Marcus Spears (LSU) and Shaun Cody (USC) would help on the defensive line. Alex Barron (Florida St.) or Jamaal Brown (Oklahoma) could solidify the offensive line and it’s possible a running back like Ronnie Brown (Auburn) or Cedric Benson (Texas) could fall to them. Another option might be a tight end like Heath Miller (Virginia) or a wide receiver such as Braylon Edwards (Michigan), Mike Williams (USC) or Troy Williamson (South Carolina).
All of Houston’s previous first-rounders (QB David Carr in 2002, WR Andre Johnson in 2003, Robinson and LB Jason Babin in 2004) started from the first game of their rookie seasons. General Manager Charley Casserly stresses that the first-rounders should be impact players who make big plays. While some of those listed above might become instant starters in steel blue, most would not and certainly no cornerback would, assuming Glenn and Robinson start the season in good health.
To get an immediate impact from a new corner, the team would either need for them to return kicks, play the gunner on kick coverage or be able to specialize on nickel coverage with blitzes or run support. With that in mind, a returner like Jones or a big hitter like Rolle or Rogers would be of more value in 2005 than a player who hasn’t displayed those capabilities. To pick someone who doesn’t project as a major contributor this year would signal a change of philosophies from previous drafts.
With cornerback being one of the league’s most expensive positions, "growing your own" is probably a better choice than signing them from free agency, the same approach Casserly has taken with the quarterback position.
The Texans have not had a year where the corners survived the season without injury. In a division with passers like Peyton Manning and Byron Leftwich, it’s unwise to be left shorthanded against their collection of receivers so, in that respect, another able pass defender can make sense. In addition, defensive backs have use in various ways as some of the fastest men on the field.
The bottom line however is that if the Texans are stuck with their favorites off the board, they may have no real choice but to take the best corner available simply to get the value out of their draft choice that they should. Typically, teams that get the best player, even when it doesn’t appear to be an obvious need, do better in the long run than teams that reach to fill a positional need. Although I’ve listed 12 players above who aren’t corners but could be drafted by Houston, I don’t believe Casserly has all of them rated above Rolle and Jones. He might not believe all of them are players he values with the 13th pick.
While it is hoped that whomever the Texans really want falls to them, they may decide it is better to move up or fall back and select among players valued in the second half of the first round (with the benefit of additional compensation for trading down). We won’t know until it all plays out on April 23rd, but thinking along with the experts is part of the fun of Draft Day.
Bob Hulsey hopes to have fun on Draft Day, particularly if the Texans trade down and grab some help for the offensive and defensive lines.
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