Justin Houston’s stock is a volatile thermometer depending on who you talk to. Some sportswriters love his ability to get to the quarterback via a burst around the corner that’s second to none. Others, like recent interview Wes Bunting, believe he’s a “one trick pony” who needs to learn some other moves quickly to succeed in the NFL. It’s clear how Scott Pioli feels, investing a high third round pick on the Georgia product in the hopes of filling the outside linebacker spot.
That spot sits opposite Chiefs sackmaster Tamba Hali, and it’s quite clear the Chiefs need a force opposite him to make opponents pay for any double team or extra attention paid Hali’s way. According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs absolutely got their man. Using a metric they call SackSEER, Doug Farrar has Houston projected for 26 sacks by his fifth season and believes he will be the second-most productive pass rusher from this draft class, one spot behind Denver’s Von Miller:
Like Miller, Houston will line up opposite of an elite pass-rusher — the Georgia grad will benefit from the presence of Tamba Hali. And I like Houston best outside the tackle, where he can use his surprising burst for his size. Despite outweighing Miller and Nevada’s Dontay Moch by 25 pounds, Houston had a very similar 10-yard split (1.62) at the Combine. Houston possesses all the attributes required or a true edge rusher — he gets off the ball quickly, turns the corner without losing that speed, and closes well on the quarterback.
Adding in his ability to peel off and play the run, and it’s easy to see why Houston projects as a fine do-it-all defender for a team playing a lot of different fronts. He’s going to have to develop his hand moves in order to disrupt NFL blockers, and I wonder if the Chiefs will use his impressive versatility (he can line up hand up or hand down on either side) in ways that produce more stops than sacks. He’ll probably make his projection if he’s on Hali’s opposite side just because of the attention paid to Hali.
Certainly, it’s Hali that will keep Houston free to pursue the quarterback, so the contract situation there is of the utmost importance for the Chiefs success on defense. But Hali might be more inclined to stick around if he’s got someone to free him up like Houston. Romeo Crennel should be quite pleased with the additions from draft day.