Pierce ran an out route in the end zone, and Stingley gave him zero room.
Colts quarterback Matt Ryan maneuvered in the pocket to buy extra time. Pierce cut back inside, and Ryan tried to squeeze in a pass. As the ball arrived, Stingley dove with full extension and swatted the pass away. The home crowd erupted.
“That was like ‘Oh, wow, the crowd just got loud,'” Stingley told ESPN. “I did that? That was cool.”
Despite Stingley’s big play, the Colts mounted a fourth-quarter comeback. The game ended in a 20-20 tie.
But, through the first three weeks of Stingley’s career, he has flashed the ability that led the Texans to select him No. 3 overall in April. When quarterbacks have targeted Stingley, they’ve completed 44% of their throws, which ranks 23rd among defensive backs with at least 60 coverage snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He also has three pass breakups and hasn’t allowed a touchdown.
But facing 1,000-yard receivers is nothing new for Stingley.
Dating back to Stingley’s standout freshman year at LSU in 2019, he faced future NFL playmakers in Los Angeles Rams‘ Van Jefferson, Philadelphia Eagles‘ DeVonta Smith, Denver Broncos‘ Jerry Jeudy, Bengals’ Tee Higgins and Dallas Cowboys‘ CeeDee Lamb.
And who could forget Stingley’s daily battles against his former LSU teammates in Minnesota Vikings‘ Justin Jefferson and Cincinnati Bengals‘ Ja’Marr Chase, who have both been named second team All-Pro in the NFL.
That group features six first-round picks, eight players who have amassed at least 800 yards in a single season, and five who have reached 1,000 yards in a single seasons.
During that 2019 season, Stingley finished with six interceptions for the champs, which led the SEC, and earned AP first-team All-America honors.
Stingley admitted those battles “100%” helped prepare him for the NFL. It explains why he feels the adjustment hasn’t been too steep, despite him only playing in three of LSU’s 13 games in 2021 after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his left foot.
During the 2020 season that was marred because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stingley missed three games (two because of an ankle injury and one with an illness) as LSU struggled, finishing 5-5 after capturing the title in 2019.
“It’s been a minute since I got to [have fun] out there on the field,” Stingley said. “Even when I lose, it’s like ‘OK, oh, yeah, I remember that’s how to play this certain thing.’ So it’s cool. It’s fun.”
The impressive part of Stingley’s college run was that many of those reps featured him on an island.
“We were mainly a man coverage team, and so there wasn’t a bunch of help coming his way,” said Baylor coach Dave Aranda, who was LSU’s defensive coordinator in 2019. “He was going into those big games knowing that it was one-on-one.”
What helped prepare him for those matchups was the battles with his teammates in practice. The cliche players cling to — of “iron sharpens iron” — in regards to their teammates pushing them truly applied to Stingley as he battled daily with Jefferson and Chase.
The Bengals star recalled how practice with Stingley was “good competition.”
“He knew all my tendencies,” Chase said. “So it was good work going against him.”
He then added a glowing scouting report on Stingley.
“He’s just an all-around playmaker,” Chase said. “He can make plays on the ball in the air. I feel like that’s one of the best things he does. … I don’t know if he’s guessing it, but just his knowledge of the game is pretty high to say he was that young. He knew his routes coming in. … He was definitely well developed already.”
Texans coach Lovie Smith agrees, as he wasted little time labeling Stingley as the Texans’ No. 1 corner.
“Derek Stingley is our one corner,” Smith said. “He’s going to be in that role for many years. I love him being in that role. He’s an outstanding player, and he’s going to be a great player as he goes through. We’ll have Steven [Nelson] as our second corner. He does some good things also. We need both of them.”
Up next, Stingley will face another pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Los Angeles Chargers‘ Keenan Allen (though, his status is questionable) and Mike Williams as the Texans (0-2-1) host the Chargers (1-2) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at NRG Stadium.
“[The NFL is] really the same. It’s not a big ol’ step or anything like that,” Stingley said. “Obviously the speed is a little faster, but other then that, it’s not too different.”