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Texans make substantive, though non-flashy, first-round pick

HOUSTON -- As late as Wednesday afternoon, the Houston Texans were on the phone with Derrick Jackson, cornerback Kevin Johnson's position coach at Wake Forest.

"He didn't know that," Texans general manager Rick Smith said.

In fact, he didn't even know the Texans were interested in him. Johnson only met with Houston twice -- in an informal interview at the NFL scouting combine in February and then in one of the team's 60 formal combine interviews. They got all the information they needed without talking to him. They knew he was a player who went from being academically ineligible as a sophomore to a college graduate three years later.

"It definitely helped me mature as a man and helped shape me to the person I'm trying to be today," Johnson said. "Luckily I bounced back from that. Not luckily, but I bounced back from that."

The Texans knew he was instinctive, athletic and versatile. Smith said he thought Johnson was the best cornerback in the draft, better than Michigan State's Trae Waynes, who went 11th to the Minnesota Vikings.

Flashy and needy this pick was not. But cornerback was a wise position to invest in.

"In college he could play on the outside, he could play inside, he could play press, he could play off," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "He had good length. He was competitive. he was instinctive. it was obvious that he studied film. We feel really good about his ability to transfer that ability to our league."

He joins a team whose third corner played in 55.4 percent of the team's snaps last season. On those plays Kareem Jackson, to whom the Texans just gave a four-year deal worth $8.5 million a year, moved inside to play the slot. The third corner, as it is with many teams, is a very important position for the Texans.

Furthermore, if the Texans didn't address cornerback now, it wouldn't be long before it became a serious need. They never approached starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph about a pay cut or renegotiation, despite rumors Joseph would become a cap casualty due to his high 2015 cap number. Joseph is a significant piece to the Texans' defensive backfield. But he turned 31 in April, and looking to the future at such a weighty position is critical.

Joseph will be a good influence for Johnson. Watching Joseph on the field and off it will help Johnson's transition into the NFL, as it has for other members of the Texans' defensive backfield.

"I'm kind of lost for words right now," Johnson said in a conference call with local reporters. "Just extremely excited that I was a first-round pick, and maybe tonight I'll be able to think about that a little bit more. Right now, I'm just thinking about how I can help the Texans become a better team and earn the respect from the coaches and the veterans."

It's the right attitude as he joins a defense that was already the team's strength.