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TeX’s and O’s: Alabama CB Kool-Aid McKinstry is Houston’s dream draft trade

Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio put it bluntly when asked about the roster heading into Thursday’s NFL draft.

“We feel as we sit here today if we had to go out there and play a game, we would be able to put a team out there and not have to rely on the draft necessarily to add player,” the veteran GM said last week.

For a team as talented as the Texans, the draft is a boost, but not necessarily a need when it comes to adding talent. The former became especially evident after Caserio decided to ship Houston’s first-round pick (No. 23) to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for two second-round selections, including pick No. 42.

After hitting on prospects in consecutive drafts, along with adding a star-studded cast in free agency this offseason, the Texans feel unlikely to find a high-level, immediate contributor in the draft beginning Thursday night. Unless, of course, Caserio can’t help himself and trades up. He even mentioned the possibility at that same press conference,

“We have nine picks, as of Thursday night,” Caserio said. “We’ll see if that changes or stays static. Given our history, it will probably change at some point”

The Texans have aggressively traded up in the past two seasons for coveted prospects, including Will Anderson Jr., Tank Dell, Juice Scruggs, and Christian Harris. If Caserio wants to continue his annual draft tradition and ensure that Houston has an opportunity to find that immediate contributor for a Super Bowl run, he had to know now which player is worth the price.

University of Alabama cornerback Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry feels like the safest bet for that title.

McKinstry, a 5-star recruit out of high school, started three years for the Crimson Tide under legendary head coach Nick Saban. This past season, the junior totaled 32 total tackles and seven passes defended. The year prior, he finished with  35 tackles and an SEC-leading 15 pass breakups.

McKinstry was solid, if unspectacular, at the NFL combine with a 4.47 40-yard dash and an overall “Relative Athletic Score” of 7.55 at his position. Along with a slight dip in production, plus an uncompelling athletic profile, McKinstry’s draft status remains uncertain behind prospects like Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell and Alabama teammate Terrion Arnold.

If he were to suffer a draft day slide, the film suggests that Caserio should not hesitate to pull the trigger and move up to select the Alabama defender.

To begin, McKinstry is as good as it gets in the class in man coverage. He’s excellent in press at using his hands to disrupt receivers’ routes and he has the requisite speed to keep pace with nearly any player on the field.

Texas receiver Xavier Worthy may have broken the NFL combine’s 40-yard dash record at 4.21 seconds, but he could run away from McKinstry after a muddied release.

McKinstry’s athletic profile and hand usage are even further complimented by his awareness. His ability to read the quarterback not only allows him to make plays on the football but also transition downfield as needed. He is an exceptionally high-IQ football player with a great awareness and understanding of what is happening on the field.

This played out how one could only imagine within the season. Last fall, McKinstry logged 122 coverage snaps that qualified as man coverage and allowed just three receptions.

Although better at man coverage, McKinstry’s awareness and overall athleticism translate to adequate play when asked to line up in zone formations. He’s able to punish opposing quarterbacks by telegraphing their decisions and has exceptional closing speed against receivers in space.

In the play above, McKinstry shows how quickly can maneuver within his assignment to close the gap against receivers. It also shows his attentiveness to monitoring the running back after Worthy is motioned away from the line.

Against the run, McKinstry could help with the “SWARM.” He’s a willing tackler and capable of bringing down more physical backs in space when tasked to do so.

This play below against Michigan’s Blake Corum is exemplary of what McKinstry’s play style against the run.

There’s no such thing as a perfect player, and McKinstry comes with his flaws.

In Week 2’s loss against Texas, there were multiple high points and a slew of low moments. Against Worth, McKinstry looked exceptional.

Against fellow Longhorns draft prospect Adonai Mitchell, there was much to be desired. He’s notably a different player when tasked to play man coverage or press compared to off-ball zone schemes.

Teams must be patient if asked to translate over to the latter in most designs, though he should be an upgrade in man formations.

While his willingness has been praised by coaches and teammates, McKinstry’s run defense is a default setting and often plays more like a safety net. He’s content watching runs play out from afar, only willing to lay into the runner as the last line of defense.

That’s not necessarily negative. Corners are often regarded for their coverage ability, and McKinstry shines there. Fans, however, shouldn’t expect to see him make plays against screens or highlight tackles like Arnold or Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil.

These concerns, notably, would factor well into the Texans’ current infrastructure.

Texans coach DeMeco Ryans seems to be signaling the team will play more man coverage this year, as evidenced by the signings of free agent cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson. It’s even more believable when considering the emergence of Derek Stingley Jr. as a lock-down, traveling cornerback last year.

McKinstry could ideally slide to a man-heavy scheme and thrive. Having another cornerback who stands out when asked to play in man coverage would allow Houston to lean fully into Stingley’s traveling persona.

It also would cover up some deficiencies that plagued the roster at times from the linebacker spot.

Houston doesn’t necessarily need McKinstry to be an elite tackler flying downhill against the run. They have a strong defensive that can control the gaps, thus opening up lanes for linebackers Christian Harris and Azeez Al-Shaair.

Trusting McKinstry as a last resort seems manageable after three seasons in the SEC. And should Stingley miss a game or two, McKinstry should keep the secondary afloat in coverage.

McKinstry’s regarded as a Day 1 prospect, so it would likely have to take a draft day tumble for him to land in a Battle Red or new H-Town Blue uniform next season. Even then, Caserio would have to be willing to part ways with draft compensation to move up for his services.

If there’s any prospect Houston should be willing to compromise for, McKinstry checks every box. Now, he just has to check the range.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire