HOUSTON – Shadowing wide receivers, reacting fast to throws, and tackling crisply, Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. is off to a strong start to his NFL career.
The former LSU consensus All-American has started every game and allowed no touchdowns for an opposing quarterback rating of 78.9 on 14 of 25 passing in his direction for 181 yards He has recorded 18 tackles, one sack, and three passes defensed, and represents one of the bright spots for the Texans during an 0-2-1 start.
Now, the third overall pick of the draft is awaiting arguably his greatest challenge so far: a matchup Sunday against strong-armed Los Angeles Chargers Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert, imposing wide receiver Mike Williams, and ultra-productive and polished route runner Keenan Allen at NRG Stadium.
“I’m just looking forward to having fun,” Stingley said. “I see something new every day. I learn from it and go onto the next day or the next play.”
Although the Chargers are off to a 1-2 start and Herbert is dealing with a rib cartilage issue, he has still passed for 910 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions for a 98.9 passer rating.
“He’s a great passer,” Stingley said. “Can’t deny that.”
Stingley was tested frequently by Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson earlier this season as he targeted wide receiver Courtland Sutton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound Brenham native.
Wilson targeted Sutton 11 times, connecting seven times for 122 yards. That included a 35-yard completion in the fourth quarter that led to the game-winning touchdown as Sutton got behind the third overall pick of the draft and former LSU consensus All-American. Sutton caught the pass in an area as he split safety Jonathan Owens and Stingley.
Stingley was resilient throughout that game and challenged Sutton, disrupting an end-zone pass.
“Extremely impressed with Sting,” Texans corners coach Dino Vasso said. “Most impressed by his demeanor, his ability to put plays behind him, be it good or bad. He’s a guy that deals with success and adversity extremely well.
“That goes to show with his stoic personality, just doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s really how you judge someone’s character, how they are in the highs and lows. He’s showed that over the first couple of weeks.”
During that game, Stingley never backed down an inch against Sutton even while allowing some receptions.
“That’s it exactly,” Vasso said. “Gives up a play, doesn’t matter. So what, now what. Next play. Makes a play, doesn’t matter. So what, now what? Next play. He just doesn’t get too high or too low and I think that’s the temperament you want for a corner that’s going to travel and get targeted.
“He’s a guy that leads by example more so than verbally. He’s played well and he’s done that over these first couple of weeks. What we do schematically and as far as technique is a little bit different than what he did in college, but he’s growing. He’s better in off coverage, a little bit more patient off coverage than he’s been in the first couple of weeks. He’s showing improvement over the last couple of weeks.”
Williams has 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns this season and caught a career-high 76 passes for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns.
When asked if there are some parallels in the matchup between Sutton and Williams, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder signed to three-year, $60 million contract this offseason, Stingley said: “Nah, everybody is different.”
Williams has 238 career receptions for 3,800 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Allen has been dealing with a hamstring injury. He’s a supreme route runner and has 734 career catches for 8,601 yards and 48 touchdowns.
“They present a lot of challenges,” Vasso said. “Williams is obviously a big guy that can run, ball skills, contested catches. He’s a guy that the quarterback trusts to throw it up there in those 50-50 balls. Keenan Allen, obviously we expect him to play.
“Doesn’t have the big-play ability, but it’s death by a thousand cuts almost because he’s going to end up with 10 catches for 90 yards it seems like every game. He presents some issues in the slot as well.”
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former five-star recruit who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
“Stingley, we evaluated him extensively during the draft,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I’ve known about him since he was a freshman and going back to high school. He’s a very complete defensive back, a true matchup guy with rare spe
Stingley has a low-key personality. He’s a man of few words, preferring to let his actions on the field speak loudest for him.
“In our meeting room, he talks, I’ve mentioned this before,” Vasso said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to chirp a lot on the field, but in the meeting rooms, he’s extremely inquisitive and asks football questions. He’s a football guy.”
The Texans and Stingley are keeping their goals simple for the Chargers game: “Everybody wants to get that first W.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com