Public words from the Texans mark a stark contrast from the Bob McNair era

During an offseason in which his leadership (fairly) came under criticism regarding the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Bill O’Brien managed to make some amends last Wednesday by coming out with one of the best statements amongst NFL personnel regarding the George Floyd protests which have enveloped daily life. I won’t even clip the thing, I would urge you to watch the entire thing:

This is a period in which white people are meant to do a lot of listening, and a lot of soul-searching. Our role in this protest is to find our inner Pee Wee Reese: Accept that systemic racism exists, listen to our black brothers and sisters on how that came to be, and take drastic action to change course. Becoming an ally is something that you can do on your own and in your own way.

For some of you, that will be telling a friend that they have crossed the line. For some of you, that will be protesting. For some of you, that will be donating to protest causes. And, for some of you, that will be using your platform for good. If you are totally at a loss for something to do, let me recommend Corinne Shutack’s 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice, most of which can be done without leaving your house.

Bill O’Brien used his platform for good, and that is worthy of praise. In fact, as much as I am against the Anthony Weaver hire as a pure football move, I think it is wonderful that O’Brien has shown that he will take actions to promote a black coach into a position of power. That’s something that is shockingly rare these days both in the professional ranks and the college ranks:

I think to fully talk about how heartening this is, we need to also reckon with the past that the Texans have left behind. Owner Bob McNair notably clashed with his black players multiple times, notably including giving a weird rant to players after Barack Obama was elected president. And, of course, the “can’t have the inmates running the prison,” comment that led DeAndre Hopkins to walk out of practice. For more on the undertones of this segment of Texans history, I fully recommend listening to Arian Foster’s podcast with Duane Brown. That goes over a lot of what happened with Brown’s holdout, the 2017 kneeling protests, and the player perspective on McNair’s actions, which he never really apologized for.

The Texans watched Deshaun Watson get hurt when they were 3-4. Tom Savage and T.J. Yates started games for them instead of Colin Kaepernick, and the Texans scored more than 16 points in a game one more time over the course of the entire season. One which ultimately led to McNair giving a deposition to Kaepernick’s legal team. Of course, money is political speech as well, and McNair was one of many NFL owners to give to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that was so, so, obviously racist. People twisted every which way but to see it the way it was, but you don’t run on building a wall without pandering to xenophobia and bigotry.

Also, though this obviously won’t be corroborated on record in any real way because both sides have what they want now, we just dealt with the baby momma comments on Hopkins less than three months ago. I don’t know how much we are supposed to factor that in to how we feel about today, but I think it’s important to bring them up.

This is a team that has a less-than-stellar record of being on the right side of history with regards to racism. I think what happened this week was a large step towards erasing that. I think it’s important that Cal McNair spoke about it even if I didn’t find what he had to say particularly interesting or noteworthy. I think it says a lot about where we are in history today, and how big the moment is, that things have changed so much from 2017.

The actions are the hard part

It is very easy to say that you are willing to listen. The willingness to change, though, is something that is going to become a lot harder. Because when you listen to black Americans, they aren’t always going to tell you things you want to hear.

Ultimately, as Michael Thomas said in his video conference presser (full video here), this is a story about injustice. The reason politicians are so interested in ending these protests by any means necessary is because they work. Breonna Taylor’s case has been reopened since the protests started. George Floyd’s killer was charged, and the three cops who watched were charged as well, because of the pressure and emphasis that this has brought.

What we have learned from weeks of protests is that the cops are willing to beat people with impunity, even when the whole world is watching, because nobody will hold them accountable. There are Twitter threads of hundreds of examples of cops beating up peaceful protesters.

Stuff like this has been happening since black people were brought to America. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert scholar on the subject of racism — I was one of three white people in a college African-American history course, and also I was This Week years old when I learned about the Tulsa Race Riots — but thanks to camera phones we can no longer deny what is happening in front of our eyes. We can no longer what-about our way out of racism. It is on display every night in America if you want to look for it.

Justice has been running into a problem for essentially my entire lifetime: There’s not a lot of money in it. Major corporations — including the NFL — have so much power that they can field entire armies of talking points to sway people from the truth. It was and has been how the NFL has operated on Kaepernick’s blackballing, and it will likely continue to be an issue no matter how much money gets set aside for funds.

So to the people who are new to the cause, looking for a way to help, I would say that the No. 1 thing you have to come at this with is the idea that listening isn’t going to give you answers you want to hear. You’re going to hear talk about defunding the police, and that’s going to immediately give you a lot of pause because of how you were brought up and what they are supposed to mean to you. The tape doesn’t lie. You’re going to hear about reparations and that’s going to tingle your fairness sensors even though Native American and Japanese-American people were given some equity for what happened to them. On an NFL level, the commissioner’s office is going to have to reckon with what happened to Kaepernick and his closest friends, as well as how they got there. Racial sensitivity training for cops isn’t going to cut it, an NFL team signing Kaepernick isn’t going to make up for how he was blackballed all on its own.

Your job as an ally? Listen anyway. Read what drives this desire for justice. Ask good faith questions about the steps that are necessary, and support reforms. It may very well be the point that this transcends political party, and that protests may need to continue for a long time for people in charge to get the message.

That the conversation has been normalized instead of shut down immediately is a good start.


John Reid profiles as a solid slot cornerback

There’s nothing that has been more appealing to Bill O’Brien the general manager than the idea that he knows better. He tends to hyperfocus on people he already knows, and in that vein you see the motivations behind selecting John Reid, who O’Brien recruited at Penn State:

Reid signed with Penn State as the 173rd-ranked player on ESPN’s 300 prospect list in 2015. He had offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Michigan State, among others.

“We’re real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we’ve got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn’t play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You’ve got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He’s already asking for the playbook.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin, 2015:

The biggest knock on him is something that will only become a bigger deal as he moves to the NFL: His size. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds coming out of high school, Reid was dinged for run support and strength. His body is essentially unchanged after five years at Penn State, and he has below-average length.

To be good enough to overcome that body to be labeled a top 300 prospect comes with a lot of pros, as you’d expect: Reid’s speed, recovery ability, and foot quickness were all praised by the recruiting scouts.

Reid had a knee injury end his 2017 season before it started, and he was redshirted.

Athletic Ability

Reid tested out fairly well at the NFL Combine. The 40-yard-dash time is a bit of a tweener time, but sub-4.5 is generally considered a separation point between NFL speed and not on the outside, and Reid narrowly hit it.

The rest of Reid’s athletic profile is very good — he was the sixth-rated cornerback in the class by SPARQ score, which is an overall assessment of an athlete’s athleticism. So, unlike Houston’s top two picks, Reid is not a pure production in college bet. He has above-average NFL athleticism to bring to the table.

Statistical Profile

Obviously one big bugaboo about this is that we don’t have the actual snap counts, but Reid played in at least 10 games in every season at Penn State. He started two games as a freshman, then 14 as a sophomore. He piled up 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven picks, and 26 passes defensed over his college career.

In Reid’s junior season at Penn State, the Nittany Lions finished with the 11th-ranked defensive S&P+ per Bill Connelly’s college numbers. It was by far the bright spot of a team that struggled to create passing offense. Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders ran for over 2200 yards between them, but McSorley completed just 53% of his passes.

Reid was second on the Nittany Lions in both interceptions and PBUs in 2018, behind (Detroit) Lions 2019 fifth-rounder Amani Oruwariye. Penn State played mostly to limit the deep pass, holding opponents to the fifth-lowest passing explosiveness and the second-lowest passing explosiveness on passing downs. Only 4.3% of opposing passes against the Nittany Lions in 2018 went for more than 20 yards.

In 2019, the Nittany Lions were a more balanced team, losing two games to top-15 opponents by a combined 15 points. Reid tied for the team lead in PBUs and interceptions with Tariq Castro-Fields. The pass defense as a whole regressed a little bit from 2018, allowing 5.9% of passes to go for 20 or more yards and watching their marginal efficiency numbers decline to top-50 rather than top-10. It should be noted that Reid said that the team as a whole moved to more Cover-3 in 2019:

If you believe in the PFF ratings, Reid was better in 2018 than he was in 2019. Their draft guide also noted that Reid “has given up nearly 12 yards per target, a 114.2 passer rating, and six touchdowns on 44 total targets” that were 10 yards or more down the field.

It’s also worth pointing out that Reid was a punt returner in parts of his early college career and could be in line to do some of that in 2020. Penn State had receiver K.J. Hamler, a second-round Broncos pick, handling most of those for Reid’s later years.

My interpretation of what John Reid put on tape: I can absolutely understand why they want to limit him to slot cornerback

Asked about his role in this defense, Bill O’Brien immediately turned to special teams and star. (Star being common terminology for slot cornerback.)

I watched about five games of Reid’s work. I was quite impressed by his coverage ability and it did immediately stand out to me how much work he did in zone in the games in 2019. Obviously, the first thing any Texans cornerback is made to look at is his ability to play zone and drive on something, and that popped out on Reid’s interception against Buffalo:

In watching the two games that Penn State lost this year, I thought Reid handled himself pretty well. One touchdown Minnesota scored on them came on a rotation that looked like it initially started as Reid’s man, but it was such a blown coverage/miscommunication that I wasn’t sure who to fault there. He’d played really well for most of the Ohio State game, including this breakup on seventh-rounder K.J. Hill:

But then he was the main coverage man on this back-breaking touchdown that took it back to a two-score game. Looked like he peeked in at Justin Fields at just the wrong moment, quickly realized his mistake. Reid even almost recovered to the spot and contested the ball, but it was a heart-breaker:

Other than that, in the games I watched, I didn’t see a lot of the big plays Reid allowed that PFF was talking up. Obviously, it’s a five-game sample size, not the whole thing. Take it with a grain of salt. But I thought he played deep balls fairly well.

Reid’s interception in zone coverage against Iowa in 2018 was the second time this offseason I’ve seen a Texans FA target read a play well enough to come off his man and attack the ball:

One sneaky aspect of Reid’s play that surprised me was how good he was as a blitzer. His disguise was very good, and I’ve seen this sort of thing in multiple games out of the slot:

I do think Lance Zierlein’s description of Reid as someone who doesn’t “feature the physical profile of a capable run-support defender” rang true to me. I saw Reid play solid support run defense as far as being gap-sound, but you don’t see a lot of clean hits on his run tackles and some of them wound up with him falling backwards or otherwise giving up extra yardage. Penn State would often hide him far off to the side of the defense when they left him on the field on run downs, and sometimes he would not appear on the field at all in easy run situations. (Obviously we don’t question Penn State coaches, I don’t know if the games I watched involved Reid nursing an injury or something.)

Where does Reid fit on this team if he doesn’t develop at all?

He’s a slot cornerback/dime defender in the middle of the field, with plus-underneath coverage ability. I do think he could be exploited by pure speed over the top and I do think he could get posted up by bigger tight ends if he doesn’t develop further. There’s a certain level of NFL power and speed that, with respect to how Reid played in college, we’re just not going to know how well he adapts to it until we see it.

My major addition to this is that I think we will know within the first 5 or 10 days of camp, whenever they have it, if Reid is going to stick or not. I think he’s the kind of player who makes an impact right away if he makes one at all. When a player is lacking physical tools — I think those are the kinds of players who, when they don’t have it, that comes out in practice and is kind of hard to ignore.

Is it the pick I would have made?

Honestly, I loved the Reid pick because I like his football character a lot. I like guys who don’t dumb it down. In his first interview with reporters from Houston he told us exactly what he was thinking about specific coverages, players he wanted to emulate, and how much of a film junkie he was. I have a soft spot for players like that. Combine that with athleticism and I think he has a chance to be a good slot cornerback.

Given how crowded the cornerback position was, I could be convinced that it wasn’t the best pure opportunity-cost pick the Texans could have made. I would have preferred a running back be added in this draft at some point and this pick could have been aimed at an Eno Benjamin or Quintez Ceephus was a better use of attacking a need.

But I’ve got no real issues with the Reid pick. He’s as excited as I was over anyone in this draft class. It’s a fourth-round pick, so obviously, you have to temper expectations a bit. But what I watched of him, his athletic profile, and his statistics all give me a lot of hope that he can become a productive NFL starter.


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