The Chicago Bears went into the 2016 NFL Draft looking to add competition at the safety position, which is why the team drafted two players at the position, including sixth rounder DeAndre Houston-Carson.
He played cornerback his first three seasons at William & Mary before shifting to free safety in 2015, where he excelled. He was named a near-unanimous All-American last season.
Houston-Carson has good NFL size (6-1, 201) and was one of the fastest safeties at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine (4.54 40-yard dash).
In competing for a starting safety role, what do the Bears have in Houston-Carson? To find out, I reviewed game film from three of his contests last season. Here's what I found.
-0:15, arrow is pointing to wrong safety, Houston-Carson is at the top of the screen, up-the-middle run play, he takes a very bad angle of attack and the RB runs right by him, yet Houston-Carson shows very good speed and chases down the ball carrier from behind.
-0:31, pitch his direction, WR crashes down, Houston-Carson feels the block at the last second, absorbs the block and shows good balance, sheds block and makes the tackle.
-0:39, middle run, Houston-Carson explodes into the middle of the field, leans away from the block and crashes into the running back. Very physical play here.
-0:48, draw play, Houston-Carson flies upfield and puts a hard hit on the RB, yet he doesn’t wrap up and that allows the ball carrier to pick up the first down. Good aggressiveness, bad technique.
-1:01, lined up in off-man coverage out wide, WR runs a hitch route, Houston-Carson breaks hard on the play, drops the WR immediately after the catch. No YAC.
-2:34, play run away from him, Houston-Carson cross the field and tracks down the ball carrier from behind. This is a full-effort play.
-3:13, RB up the middle, OL clears to 2nd level, Houston-Carson blows right through the arm block by the OL, makes the tackle after a short gain. Speed and aggressiveness here.
-3:42, QB run off-tackle, Houston-Carson shoot upfield but he comes in too flat and has a poor angle at the tackle, QB runs right by.
-4:14, red-zone run, Houston-Carson reads the play immediately and explodes into the ball carrier. Very physical snap.
-2:23, pass complete near sideline, Houston-Carson approaches WR, receiver cuts inside, Houston-Carson stays under control and swings hips, RB tries to block him, he absorbs the block and continues tracking the WR, makes tackle. Good balance and body control saves a TD.
-3:20, Villanova QB is drilled as he releases the pass, Houston-Carson is roaming centerfield, he undercuts the pass and intercepts it, he then races down the field and weaves through the traffic to score on a 94-yard INT return for TD. Outstanding speed on the return.
0:00, bubble screen to WR, Houston-Carson comes up with speed and drops a shoulder into the WR’s stomach. Big hit that could pay dividends later in the game.
0:48, gunner on punt team, Houston-Carson gives a quick move and is immediately in the clear from his blocker, breaks down near returner, tracks him, puts blocker on his butt and makes the tackle. Subtle, effective move at the LOS.
-2:10, approaches box pre-snap, A-gap blitz, shoots into the backfield and makes the tackle.
-3:28, screen pass to RB, good blocking out front and hits open field, Houston-Carson breaks down in space, puts his face into the RB’s chest and wraps up the ball carrier. Good form tackle on a RB with room to run.
-3:40, red-zone pass to TE up the seam, Houston-Carson has a deep half, he stays in backpedal even as TE breaks free, does not anticipate pass and it goes for an easy TD.
-5:02, punt return team, Houston-Carson fires off the snap and closes ground quickly, works around the block and nearly gets his hand on the ball, has enough body control to avoid contact with the punter.
-6:05, field goal block, Houston-Carson fires low off the ball, ducks his shoulder around the block attempt and dives at the ball, knocking it out of the air. Great burst and explosion to get into the backfield in a hurry.
-8:07, pass complete over the middle, Houston-Carson comes up and lays the lumber on the receiver. Good job making the receiver pay.
Houston-Carson has prototypical size for an NFL safety. He plays with confidence and intelligence, which is one of the many reasons he excelled after switching to safety.
He's not afraid to stick his nose into the pile and he clearly enjoys contact. His aggression against the run is similar to that of a linebacker. He plays with a lot of speed when attacking ball carriers upfield.
In space, Houston-Carson was very consistent. He breaks down very well, sinking his hips and keeping his feet moving. As a last-resort free safety, he rarely missed tackles on running backs and receivers who cleared to the second level.
He has sideline-to-sideline speed and can roam centerfield with ease. When he gets the ball in his hands, his quickness and straight-line pace make him a weapon to score off turnovers.
Houston-Carson will occasionally drop a shoulder instead of wrapping up, which won't work at the next level, and he'll sometimes take poor angles of attack. Both are fundamental issues that must be improved.
On special teams, Houston-Carson has arguably the highest ceiling of an player in this year's draft. He's experienced as a gunner on punt team and as a coverage player on kickoffs.
Yet he's at his best when going after punts and field goals. He had six career blocks at William & Mary, showing great timing and explosiveness off the snap, and the ability to stay on target as he fights through blocks. He's going to provide immediate and significant value on special teams.
After watching the film, it's amazing to me that Houston-Carson fell all the way to the sixth round. He was considered a potential fourth-round prospect and the Bears were able to grab him two rounds later.
This All-American safety does everything well and has very few holes in his game. Other than a lack of top-tier competition, it's unclear how he fell into Chicago's lap.
Houston-Carson is going to be a boost to the team's third phase from Day 1 and don't be surprised if his on-field intelligence and physicality earn him the starting safety gig before season's end.