This draft is so filled with defensive talent, that you often overlook some of the guys who go about their business, have quietly great seasons and workouts, and then fall to playoff teams on draft day. One such player this year could be Georgia’s All Conference pass rusher Justin Houston, who absolutely lit up the SEC in his junior season.
In 13 games, Houston had 67 tackles, 18.5 for loss, 10 sacks, an unprecedented 44 quarterback pressures, two pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. He was all over the stat sheet, and was all over the field making plays for the Georgia Bulldogs. He did all of this building off of a 2009 campaign where he had 15 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and only 18 quarterback pressures. As you can see, he had a huge increase in production from his junior to senior season.
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Justin Houston is one of the most athletic defensive players in this draft. At 6’3″ and nearly 267 pounds, he managed to run a 4.57 second 40 yard dash at the Georgia pro day, and chucked up 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the Scouting Combine. The fact that he is still flying under the radar is pretty incredible, and I honestly don’t see him getting past the Atlanta Falcons in the first round.
What does Houston do well? Well, he excels in one area if he excels in any, and that is rushing the passer. Houston’s 44 quarterback hurries last year–three or four per game–is a fantastic number against consistent NFL caliber competition in the SEC. One thing I noticed about Houston when watching a couple of his games was that he has a great feel for the snap count and has an excellent burst off the line, but when he engages a defender–if they are quick enough to stop him–is what really impresses me. Houston knows how to get around the edge, and has great short area quickness and upper-body strength to disengage from defenders. He also has displayed the athleticism to drop into coverage when needed, but in the NFL, he’s going to have one job–disrupt the quarterback.
I think in that regard, Houston is going to do an excellent job. I am hesitant to give him anything less than a top ten grade right now. The only glaring weakness he has is a broad array of pass rush moves. He isn’t a bull rusher per se, and he’s also not strictly a speed rusher. I suppose you could say–in regards to his pass rushing repertoire–that Houston is a jack of all trades, and master of none, though he has a very, very good speed rush move.
At 267 pounds and with his quickness, Houston is going to be a terror for opposing offensive lines to handle. He lined up at LDE, RDE, and stood up as a linebacker at Georgia in one game against Kentucky, and he likely did that on a consistent basis. Georgia’s coaching staff is smart enough to know that you don’t have to keep a kid with this kind of ability in one place the whole game. He was probably all over the field in every Georgia game to keep other teams on their toes, which is what he could be at the NFL level.
I think in terms of his overall draft projection, you could see Houston go as early as 11 or 12 to the Houston Texans or Minnesota Vikings, but I wouldn’t bet that he’d go any later than 27 to the Atlanta Falcons, who have shown a very significant interest in him.
Bottom line: Houston is one of the best pass rushers in the draft, and his game/skill set should transfer very well to the NFL, and some team is going to be getting a bargain in the middle-late portion of the first round.