The Houston Texans invested heavily in the future of their secondary with cornerback Derek Stingley taken in the first round and safety Jalen Pitre taken in Round 2 of the 2022 NFL draft.
Houston also shored up their secondary by bringing in cornerback Steven Nelson and retaining and dependable players such as Desmond King and Tavierre Thomas.
If the boundary corners are taken care of in Stingley and Nelson, then slot cornerback would be a position that the Texans would have to fortify to have success. New coach Lovie Smith, who was the defensive coordinator last year, sees the value in the slot corner position, which is why defensive assistant Ilir Emini has the added title of “nickels.”
According to Anthony Treash from Pro Football Focus, Thomas ranks as the 10th-best slot cornerback in the NFL.
Thomas then signed with Houston and thrived as the starter. He finished with a top-three slot coverage grade and allowed the fewest yards per coverage snap (0.50). Obviously, there is caution with expecting Thomas to replicate this play in 2022 and beyond, given it’s a one-year sample, but he showed the ability to do so.
What isn’t being discussed about Thomas’ potential is the fact 2022 will be the first time in his career he will have the same defensive staff from one year to the next. The Cleveland Browns never had the same defensive coordinator while Thomas was there from 2018-20.
Although Houston fired David Culley after a 4-13 finish in 2021, Smith and his Tampa 2 scheme remains in place for 2022, which creates a level of continuity Thomas has not had in the NFL.
“This is the first year that I will be playing with the same defensive staff, defensive coordinator,” Thomas told reporters on April 26. “Now, he’s the head coach. It’s a blessing just to not have to go through that situation again with changing everything around me. I’ve always had to continue to grind and learn new playbooks and now I’m coming back to the same playbook with some of the same guys. It’s a blessing.”
Thomas had the best season of his career last year with 86 combined tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and a forced fumble — all in 17 games, eight of which he started.
The former undrafted free agent from Ferris State has shown the ability to have great moments in Smith’s defense. If Thomas can consistently perform as the slot corner for Houston, the defense should be able to take another jump.