NFL Draft 2022 Rumors: Texans Considering Sauce Gardner or Derek Stingley Jr. at 3

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVApril 19, 2022

Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad Gardner (1) plays during the second half of an American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game against Houston Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
AP Photo/Jeff Dean

The Houston Texans are reportedly considering multiple prospects with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, including the two top cornerbacks in the class.

In his latest NFL mock draft released Tuesday, NFL Network's Peter Schrager mocked NC State offensive tackle Ickey Ekwonu to the Texans, but he noted that there is "a lot of noise" within the league regarding Houston taking either Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner or LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr.

While it isn't typical for a cornerback to go inside the top three, the position is a huge need for Houston entering the 2022 season.

Although Schrager did not mock a corner to the Texans, he does have Gardner going seventh overall to the New York Giants and Stingley going ninth overall to the Seattle Seahawks.

In recent years, the top three of the draft has typically been reserved for quarterbacks, offensive tackles and defensive ends, but it isn't unprecedented for a corner to go that high.

In fact, it happened in the 2020 draft when the Detroit Lions took Jeff Okudah third overall, although that was the first time since 1997 that a cornerback was taken that early.

Thus far, the Okudah pick has not worked out for the Lions, as injuries have limited the former Ohio State standout to just 10 games in two seasons, including only one contest in 2021.

Gardner and Stingley are both perhaps at or near the same talent level as Okudah, though, and either of them could be worth the risk for a cornerback-needy team like Houston.

In each of his three seasons at Cincinnati, Gardner finished with three interceptions. He also set career highs with 40 tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks last season, making him one of the most versatile and well-rounded corners in the draft.

Stingley seemed like a slam dunk to be the top cornerback in the 2022 draft entering last season, but the injury bug bit him again and limited him to just three games.

That came on the heels of Stingley appearing in just seven games in 2020 due to injury, and it is difficult to ignore the fact that he didn't have a single interception in his final two collegiate seasons after reeling in six as a freshman.

Given what has happened to Okudah in the NFL and the durability issues Stingley dealt with at LSU, it is understandable why there may be some pause to spend a high pick on him.

The Texans have no shortage of needs on both sides of the ball, but it wouldn't be at all surprising to see them use the No. 3 overall pick on a defensive player given the history of head coach Lovie Smith.

Smith was the Texans' defensive coordinator last season, and he has been both a head coach and defensive assistant throughout his career, both in the NFL and collegiately.

With Smith at the helm last season as DC, the Texans ranked 23rd in the NFL in passing yardage allowed and tied for 16th in passing touchdowns allowed.

While that means Houston wasn't a bottom-of-the-barrel team against the pass, there is a ton of room for improvement, and the selection of either Gardner or Stingley could help significantly in that regard.

The Texans have addressed the cornerback position this offseason by signing veteran Steven Nelson, but they have no elite talent at corner.

That could be a significant issue for them in an AFC that is stacked with top-flight quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson and others.

The NFL is undoubtedly a pass-first league, meaning cornerbacks are more important than ever before, and that could lead to them being taken much higher in the draft than they traditionally have been.