Wrapping up their 2021 defensive positional rankings, Pro Football Focus has moved over to the defensive backs. Despite their defense being fresh off of a tough 4-12 season, PFF has named three Houston Texans defensive backs among the best at their respective position.
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First off is one of the longest-tenured players on this Texans defense, team leader Justin Reid. PFF named Reid 25th amongst all safeties for the 2021 season, crediting past success for a down season in 2020.
It would be easy to look at Houston last season and conclude they have no defenders of any quality, but Justin Reid has been an impressive safety for most of his career. Reid was dragged down by the unit as a whole in 2020, and his coverage grade of 67.2 was the lowest of his career, but his previous two seasons had been flirting with an 80.0 grade, and he has increased the number of defensive stops he has made each season.
It was tough for any player to be at their best on this defense last season. Regardless of how talented he is, the simple fact was Reid was forced to do much more as others at the position, picking up the slack for those around him that underperformed.
First-year GM Nick Caserio brought in new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and a number of potentially impactful players. One happens to be PFF's including sixth-ranked slot cornerback in Desmond King.
King’s career has trended in the wrong direction since making a splash with PFF grades north of 85.0 in his first two NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. He followed up that hot start with solid, yet unspectacular, grades of 70.9 and 67.0 in the last two years.
King has been a reliable run defender and tackler throughout his first four seasons. Coverage has been the area where his play has started to decline. However, King still ranks in the 69th percentile of all slot defenders in coverage grade since 2019. He’ll look for a fresh start on a Houston defense in need of playmakers next season.
Given that one of Houston's major issues in 2020 was their inconsistencies to stop the run, King's abilities in open-field tackling is a very welcomed addition. Throw in the fact that he is an instant upgrade over many of the options from last season and it's clear this will be one move all Texans fans can get behind.
King's presence will also take some of the pressure off of Reid over the top and cornerback Bradley Roby on the outside. Speaking of Roby, PFF had him as their 24th outside cornerback, believing his man cover skills are one of the league's more consistent among all active players.
The Texans don’t have many players on their roster who they can rely on for steady play, but Roby is one of the few, assuming he doesn’t receive another six-game suspension in 2021. He ranks in the 80th percentile of qualifying cornerbacks in forced incompletion rate and the 70th percentile in coverage grade while in single coverage since entering the league in 2014. His 71.5 overall grade in 2020 was his highest single-season mark since back in 2017 with the Broncos.
Houston's secondary may not be the league's best on paper, but it is without a doubt a potential strength. While there is plenty to be apprehensive about entering a new season, Texans fans should be cautiously optimistic on the pieces in place.
The trio of Reid, King and Roby should be fun to watch moving forward, each of whom could be playing for a contract extension before the season's end.
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