How Texans rookie CB Kamari Lassiter could fix a hyped team’s weakness

During the pre-draft process, Texans general manager Nick Caserio proclaimed that it would be difficult for an incoming rookie to make a “significant impact” for Houston in 2024. 

It was a reasonable statement, considering the team’s construction. The high-profile additions the franchise has made — wide receiver Stefon Diggs, edge rusher Danielle Hunter, running back Joe Mixon, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, defensive lineman Denico Autry — to bolster its C.J. Stroud-led core gives it a top AFC contender on paper. The Texans have a win-now roster for 2024, with few spots up for grabs. 

But one Texans rookie is forcing his way into the mix. 

Second-round pick Kamari Lassiter shined during Houston’s OTAs, according to local media reports. He held his own against the team’s prolific receivers. A strong rep against Diggs was featured on the team’s X page. 

The former Georgia standout appears to be the frontrunner to start at cornerback opposite Derek Stingley Jr

“What I have seen from Kamari is a guy that has been locked in since day one that he has gotten here,” coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He is very competitive, he is making plays, he is an instinctive player. I think a lot of guys have been fired up to see what he has been able to do over the past couple weeks.”

Lassiter’s emergence in the offseason program is no small deal for the Texans. 

As loaded as they are on both sides of the ball, the secondary has been viewed with uncertainty. Houston allowed 60 explosive receptions (receptions of 20-plus yards) last season, sixth-most in the league, according to Sportradar. They allowed 28 in the last seven weeks of the season, third-most in the NFL. The Texans ranked 23rd in pass defense overall. It didn’t help that starting safety Jimmie Ward missed seven games in 2023 due to injury, while fellow safety Jalen Pitre had an up-and-down year after shining as a rookie. 

None of the high-profile moves the Texans have made this offseason addressed the defensive backfield. Their most notable acquisitions, former top-10 picks C.J. Henderson and Jeff Okudah, have struggled to stick with their previous teams. Veteran corner Steven Nelson, who tied a career-high with four interceptions for the Texans last season, announced his retirement last week. 

That opens opportunities for Lassiter and safety Calen Bullock, a third-round pick. Lassiter doesn’t have great straight-line speed (he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would’ve tied for last among cornerbacks at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine). He didn’t have great ball production at Georgia, either (just one interception and 15 pass breakups in three college seasons). But his early emergence shouldn’t be totally surprising. He was a terrific cover corner at the highest level of college football. 

What are realistic expectations for the Texans?

A second-team All-SEC selection last season, Lassiter allowed just a 38.5% completion rate in coverage, No. 1 in the conference and fourth-best among FBS cornerbacks who played at least 299 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He also posted a 6.62-second three cone drill at the combine, the best mark for cornerbacks, showing his ability to turn and run at a high level. 

“I’ve been so amazed by him, man,” edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. said. “He’s been making plays left and right all over the field. … I think he can do great things for this defense and be a part of something special that we have going on here. 

“It’s just that mentality you have coming from the SEC,” Anderson continued. “He gets it. He knows now is the time. He don’t have to wait for nobody. He’s not scared to jump up in front of the line. He’s not afraid to go make plays. That’s the type of mentality that he has coming from a place like that.”

If Lassiter becomes a Day 1 starter, Caserio’s draft strategy will look brilliant. The Texans traded out of the first round, where teams seek immediate starting-caliber players, dealing Nos. 23 and 232 to the Vikings for Nos. 42, 188 and a 2025 second-rounder. The 42nd pick was used on Lassiter. 

If the offseason program is any indication, a Lassiter-Stingley cornerback duo has big-time potential for 2024, aided by what should be a dominant pass rush. The Texans’ defensive-line acquisitions of Hunter and Autry had a combined 28 sacks and 39 quarterback hits last season. And they should free up opportunities for Anderson, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, who had seven sacks and 22 quarterback hits in 2023. 

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Stroud said the battles between the offense and defense have already been fierce. 

“It’s just been dogs on dogs,” Stroud said last week. “The best teams I’ve ever been on have been the closest teams partially, but also the most competitive teams.”

Lassiter just might make the Texans even more competitive.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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