Houston Texans: Chauncey Gardner Johnson is an impressive draft target

Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who worked out for the Houston Texans (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who worked out for the Houston Texans (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans have worked out Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson this week and his performance has been impressive. How would he fit? Let’s look.

The Houston Texans have less than two weeks to go before the start of the NFL Draft and it’s now the final stretch before they finalize their plans on who they’re going to draft when their number is called.

Will they go offensive tackle first?  Cornerback?  Safety?  Those are all glaring needs for the Houston Texans at the moment and it won’t be until draft night when the team’s well-laid plans are revealed to the public in full-circle fashion.

Brian Gaine won’t tell you that he’s going to be drafting based off of need but he will say that he’s going to target the best player available.  No general manager would admonish such a thing because it personally reveals a sign of weakness.  But the situation is dire — the Houston Texans need to fill some serious holes with the draft and there will be enough talent in that pool to help plug them up.

The Houston Texans have been working out a ton of prospects ahead of the draft but the one that caught my eye was when the Chron’s Aaron Wilson reported that they worked out University of Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.  With unexpected retirement of Andre Hal, this position has become more of an immediate need for the team.

This actually excites me that they’re considering bringing in the 6-foot, 208-pound safety with 30.88-inch arms and 9.25-inch hands into the fold.  He also ran a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash component of the NFL Combine.  He flourished at Florida and had success in the SEC, the most elite college football conference that exists at this moment.

A native out of Cocoa, Fla., Gardner-Johnson has forgone his senior year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft and it’s expected that the reigning Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl defensive MVP will be taken in the earlier rounds.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Gardner-Johnson graded out at a near-perfect 87.8 for the 2018 season through 665 snaps.

He was ranked 28th among safeties in yards per cover snap (0.78), definitely indicating that nothing much gets past him within his role as part of the last line of defense.

PFF has him graded out as a guy that’s above-average in coverage and passer-rating allowed but an average in cover snaps per target and below-average in run defense, playmaking and his ability to be able to be used on first-downs.

What’s impressive is that quarterbacks had a gaudy 46.3 quarterback rating when targeted Gardner-Johnson.  Even though he wasn’t necessarily targeted frequently, it goes to show why he wasn’t.  QB’s know that they won’t have much success against him.

And with him not being a first-down defensive back doesn’t scare me away but it gives the Houston Texans opportunity to snag a guy that has potential to be one as he develops over time.  I think even as a rookie, he could make an impact out on the field and I think Justin Reid, who is the future face of the safeties unit, can be a helpful influence in ensuring that he gets better.

Here’s what the experts had to say about Gardner-Johnson:

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com:

"“Big, athletic defensive back who requires tape study from 2017 and 2018 assess his optimal usage. Some teams will see him as a big slot defender who can blitz, support the run, handle zone duties or play man on big receivers and matchup tight ends. Others will see him as a Cover-1 high safety with the range and ball-tracking to take it away over the top. Gardner-Johnson is too often a step behind in his reads and reaction allowing completions that could be breakups. His versatility and talent could make him an early starter with a high-ceiling if he can put it all together.”"

Joe Marino of the Draft Network:

"“Gardner-Johnson is a highly versatile defensive back that can fill numerous roles for an NFL defense and allow for more scheme diversity. He is a standout zone defender whether it’s single high or split zones. He features the physical traits needed to mirror routes in man coverage and excels near the line of scrimmage with box duties. While there is some variance, his improvements from 2017 to 2018 give indication that he still has room to grow. CGJ is a true swiss army knife that profiles as a productive starter that is deployed in multiple ways in the NFL.”"

So the consensus seems to be that this guy will go likely in the second round and it means that

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the team is willing to make a significant investment at the position.  He’s the type of player that is extremely athletic and oozes versatility which is a character trait that the truthers of Bill O’Brien-era love.  And because of that, he’d be a nice fit for the Houston Texans.  Although there’s always room for him to get better, there’s no question that he can have success in the NFL, especially with this team.

If the Houston Texans go after this guy and land him, I’d totally be for it.

Gardner-Johnson amassed 71 tackles — 34 assisted — including 9.0 tackles-for-loss — as well as four interceptions and one pass defended.  His four picks were good enough to be tied for second in the SEC for the Gators last season.

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