If Available, Texans Must Target Syracuse's Melifonwu in Round 3

Should they be able to grab their choice, the Houston Texans should draft Syracuse's Ifeatu Melifonwu
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HOUSTON --  When David Culley takes the field in May for the first time as the Houston Texans head coach, it'll be the first of many. 

First-time head coach. First-time GM. First time in a new scheme for over a decade. 

For the first time since 2010, Houston will be converting from a 3-4 base scheme to a 4-3 set under new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. In Anthony Weaver's system, the defense relied heavily on blitzes and an array of coverages. 

With Smith, a pioneer of the Tampa 2 scheme, they'll rely more on the Cover 2 and Cover 3 zone style mixed in with some man. 

Five defensive backs were added by new GM Nick Caserio this offseason. Desmond King should be the lone starter of those added. Instead, Houston must target a cornerback early in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

READ MORE: At Pick No. 67, Texans Must Add "Stud" Defensive Name

How early one might ask? The No. 67 pick should be the floor. 

Top talent seems to find its way to fall into the third round. Last season, Washington added running back Antonio Gibson at No. 66. In 2019, Tampa Bay added cornerback Jamel Dean, who recorded 17 pass breakups in his rookie season. 

In 2018, Brian Gaine grabbed Stanford star, Justin Reid. Any regrets there Houston?

This time around, the Texans should hope Syracuse's Ifeatu Melifonwu is still on the board when Caserio makes his inaugural pick for the new regime. 

The 6-foot-3 Orange defensive back might best be remembered for his "unicorn" draft gem brother, Obi. Melifonwu though is better suited as a cornerback instead of a multi-talented defensive back. 

Melifonwu isn't a unique athlete like his brother. That's actually a compliment. Instead, the latter Melifonwu is a well-round football player that can use his athletic traits to his advantage.  

READ MORE: Texans NFL Draft Tracker

Smith's defense will require players to work on the outside in more zone. Melifonwu comes from a Dino Babers' roster. The plus side is when asked to play in off-ball press-man coverage, Melifonwu is physical with his targets, taking them out of the play and forcing quarterbacks to throw opposite his direction. 

That's not to say a third-round talent won't have flaws.

Melifonwu's hands are smaller than expected for a large-framed target. This can allow targets to win at the line of scrimmage early, breaking the cushion sooner than expected.

READ MORE: NFL Draft: Best Player Available? What Houston Texans Need

Without a proper jam, receivers win often. Because of that, Melifonwu is still a project. However, in a zone system, he's better suited to start early in his career and make an impact on the outside. 

Smith told reporters earlier this offseason that Houston will run loads of Cover 2, but also will play man and other zone schemes. The versatile players that can do both will the ones who find the field. 

“Most people say, ‘You guys are going to run Cover 2 every snap,’ (and) that’s a misnomer,” Smith said last week to reporters via Zoom. “In order for us to have success, a lot’s going to be based on whether our cornerbacks can play man coverage or not.

“It always comes back to that, so that’s a position we need to be deep, and I feel good about the direction we’re going.”

Melifonwu showed the skills while in the ACC to do both. And while he might have recorded just one interception in 2020, he 26 passes deflections in 29 games. 

Houston allowed 30 touchdown passes in 2020 in coverage. They were 30th in pass defense, allowing 416.8 yards a game.

Smith should be happy if Caserio addresses the defense early and often draft weekend. 

Should Houston add a true rising cornerback, Melifonwu is a win for all parties on Friday. 

CONTINUE READING: NFL Source: Eagles Remain Interested In Trade For Texans QB Deshaun Watson