No matter what you think of his past, his present or his possible future, Marcus Gilchrist is a smart, sophisticated signing by the Houston Texans heading into the 2017 season. While safety looking like the only Achilles heel for the highly touted defense, Gilchrist’s high-end potential is what a team like Houston could use, especially down the stretch.
The 28-year-old safety has already had stints with the now-Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets. He could have finished his four-year/$22 million deal if not for a serious knee injury in 2016. While he’s been cleared by doctors and passed all the tests for reinstatement into the league, there still are lingering concerns about his playing style and injury record.
There’s plenty of question marks surrounding Gilchrist heading into 2017, however, this signing is a win for the Texans if he can return healthy and to his 2015 playing style. With the Texans looking to find a replacement for Quinten Demps, Gilchrist could be an excellent constellation prize.
Throughout his career, Gilchrist has spent snaps at both safety positions, much like Demps did before coming to Houston. A known for his ball-tracking skills and ability to play in man coverage, Gilchrist has collected 10 interceptions along with 26 pass deflections, both career highs in 2015 with the Jets.
Similar to the Jets defense, Houston runs a base cover 2 or nickel defense that allows both safeties to play over the top in zone coverage. While Houston will send their strong safety down into the box to play against the run, Gilchrist cover skills could allow Andre Hal to possibly move over to a strong safety role and allow the former Jets to soar high.
During the 2015 regular season, Gilchrist posted an 81.3 final overall ranking, according to Pro Football Focus. Not only did he have careers highs in interceptions and pass deflections, he also posted a career-high in coverage and yards allowed per after the catch. Coming from a 3-4 nickel defense ran by Bowles, Gilchrist is a great fit for a defense like Houston.
Against the run, Gilchrist isn’t much an option down in the box. With 383 career tackles, most of his tackles were in the open field rather than down low. Collecting only three stops last season before injury, Gilchrist missed also three tackles at the line of scrimmage according to Pro Football Focus.
In pass defense, however, Gilchrist was near perfect, missing only one tackle and having one of the highest coverage tackling skills during the regular season. Last season, Houston’s secondary combined for 274 of the Texans total tackles. However, the safety group only provided 134 of those and also produced a high missed-tackle ratio. Gilchrist might not be the best in the box, but his low missed rate in coverage should allow the overall team’s status to jolt forward in 2017.
Much of what Gilchrist brings to the Texans is based off a performance two seasons ago on an average Jets defense. Gilchrist has still not lived up to be the highlight reel he provided as the primary cover cornerback at Clemson. Still, his overall cover skills have looked impressive in both man and zone schemes and his reliability and leadership skills, both on and off the field, are valuable.
Houston has few holes on their top-ranked defense. If Gilchrist is able to produce similar numbers for the Texans that he did in 2015, it’ll be hard to the unit not to take home the big imaginary trophy for top unit again in 2017.
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