While a few eyebrows were raised at last weekend’s NFL Draft with the Chiefs first-round choice of wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, it was the third round selection of pass rushing linebacker Justin Houston that presented the most question marks. After all, a year after the Chiefs took every choir boy in the NFL Draft, Scott Pioli now seemed like he was going back on his emphasis on leadership and character.
By now, most understand that Pioli is interested in building a winning program alone and that he’s got enough solid influence in the locker room to handle one or two “projects,” if you will. Houston’s well-publicized failure of a drug test at February’s NFL Combine knocked the talented Georgia product down or even off several draft boards in the process. That is, until the Chiefs chose him early in the third round.
Chiefs blogger Bob Gretz recently posted a full profile on Houston worth reading, and specifically noted the following in his summary analysis:
Physically gifted with skills that rank him in the upper 10 percent of college players. He does not match that ability with effort and intelligence. Testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana was either a cry for help or stupidity. Either way, it’s going to take some extra work at all levels of the organization if the third-round gamble is going to prove viable.
It’s that final sentence that merits commentary. The coaching staff is going to have to work harder to make Houston a successful player. The trainers are going to have to work harder to keep him disciplined. Houston himself is going to have to work harder to maintain the focus that so many don’t believe that he can. It’s not catering to a player, but it’s acknowledging the reality that Houston, while incredibly gifted, hasn’t been able to put it all together up to this point.
The question stands, then, is it worth it? Why create even a potential situation in the locker room or in practice with a player who might not get with the program? The simple answer is: pass rush. Houston’s selection, especially by Pioli, reveals the lengths to which teams must go to get to the passer. It’s the same reason the Texans shocked NFL fans with the No. 1 overall selection of Mario Williams over the more popular selections of Vince Young or Reggie Bush. In today’s NFL, you need both the franchise passer and the ability to get to the other team’s passer. That’s the bottom line.
Justin Houston’s natural ability to get speed around the edge gives the Chiefs something to work with that few players inherently have. Only time will tell whether Houston can avoid the issues that have plagued him to this point, and he’s a long way from making an impact in a Chiefs uniform. But even if that glimmer of potential is there, it’s a move that Pioli felt he had to make.