Keion Crossen didn't back down from the tough challenges he faced last season when he was forced into action as a starting cornerback.
Due to injuries and Bradley Roby's performance enhancing drug suspension, the core special-teams contributor started the final four games of the year and finished with a career-high 46 tackles and five passes defensed. He played a career-high 28 percent of the overall defensive snaps and also played 59 percent of the special teams snapped.
Crossen allowed some catches, but he also knocked away throws intended for Pro Bowl wide receivers, including the Chicago Bears' Allen Robinson and then-Cincinnati Bengals standout A.J. Green.
At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Crossen is relatively undersized in terms. He's also extremely athletic. He's run the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds. He's also strong and competitive and a hard hitting, sure tackler. Crossen is competing for playing time as a backup corner and should be a key part of the Texans' kick coverage units again.
A former New England Patriots seventh-round draft pick from Western Carolina acquired by the Texans in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick, Crossen held Green to four catches for 64 yards on seven targets and no scores last season. He had four passes defensed against Cincinnati as they tried to target Crossen and exploit Green's superior size. Crossen knocked the deep throws away and had the most passes defended by a Texans player since Johnathan Joseph with four in 2015 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Crossen is now playing for a new defensive coordinator in Lovie Smith. He's reunited with Texans general manager Nick Caserio, a former Patriots executive who was with New England when Crossen was drafted.
"As we look at Keion, he’s an athletic player who can run," Texans cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said. "He’s explosive, he’s long for a guy his height and he’s got impressive ball skills being around him the past couple weeks here. A guy that we’re excited about, a young player that’s progressing and trending in the right direction.”
In three NFL seasons, Crossen has played in 43 games and has 73 tackles.
"Keion Crossen has been a guy who stepped in to play corner for us, and he is competitive," Romeo Crennel said last season when he was the Texans' interim head coach. "He'll line up against any guy that we put him on and he'll fight him. He'll win some and he'll lose some, but he does compete, and that's what you've got to have, I think, down in and down out, guys that compete."
Crossen explained his mentality toward the game last season.
"Obviously, there are things I can correct and things I can get better at," Crossen said. "I'm never satisfied with just doing average or decent. I want to be a great player, so I want to make some great plays and continue to work my craft and play good, sound football.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128