The Houston Texans already had a promising secondary heading into the new league year.
Second-round safety Jalen Pitre led the defense with 147 combined tackles and five interceptions. The Baylor product managed to win the starting job and relegated Eric Murray to a reserve role as Pitre started all 17 games.
Throw in first-round cornerback Derek Stingley, who had his season limited to nine games due to a hamstring injury, and the Texans have two young pieces to make their backend formidable in the coming seasons.
However, the signing of Jimmie Ward in free agency was a move that made Houston better on the backend in the present.
According to Dalton Wasserman from Pro Football Focus, the former San Francisco 49ers defensive back ranks as the 14th-best safety in the NFL.
One of the most versatile players on this list, Ward moved almost exclusively to the slot in 2022 after several years of acting as a more movable chess piece. Ward figures to go back to his old role in Houston with DeMeco Ryans running the show, and even if he doesn’t, he will likely be very productive. Ward’s 91.4 run-defense grade last season should immensely help the Texans’ league-worst run defense.
Ryans particularly appreciates Ward’s ability to stay versatile, a key in today’s NFL that features offenses attacking a variety of ways.
“With the secondary, with the way the game is going, it’s more pass-heavy all throughout the NFL,” Ryans said on June 6 after organized team activities. “So, the more versatility that you can have in your back end, whether you’re playing a nickel or a dime defense, the more defensive backs you can have to cover and do multiple things, the better off you can be when you’re trying to strategize against these different opponents that run more RPO game, more passing threats.”
Houston having a top-15 talent in the secondary to go along with their young talent creates an opportunity to have a stingy defense at some level in 2023.