Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia Bulldogs
40-Time: (NFL Scouting Combine Time Feb. 23 - Mar. 1 to be added)
Justin Houston's specialty is getting to the quarterback, and he's pretty damn good at it. Watching him, what jumps out is just how fast he is. He's exceptionally quick and gets out of his stance in an instant. He gets an excellent jump off of the snap which gives him an immediate advantage when rushing the passer or trying to get into the backfield to redirect the ball carrier or make the tackle.
He finished his junior season in 2010 with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, second in the SEC in both categories. He's been rather consistent over the last two seasons, recording 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2009 despite missing the first two games due to suspension and another due to injury. He also returned a fumble 18 yards for a score against Georgia Tech in the 2010 regular season finale, further demonstrating his athleticism.
He wraps up when he tackles to ensure that he brings his man to the ground rather than just hitting the player and hoping he falls down. He has good strength that he can use to defend the run from either a 4-3 defensive end spot or the 3-4 outside linebacker position. He plays with a high motor on every play to wear down offensive linemen as the game drags on into the fourth quarter. He's good in pursuit and can locate the ball quickly and effectively to help make the play.
One area in which Houston could use some work, or at least some experience, is dropping back in coverage. He recorded two passes defended last season and his lone interception came on a pass that was thrown almost directly at him. Not that he'll be relied upon to rack up pass defense statistics or pick off passes on a regular basis, but seeing him put into coverage situations a bit more would be nice to ensure that he can handle the load as an every down linebacker.
Houston would benefit from working on his hand movements to shed blocks and get past defenders. He should also work on adding moves to his pass rush arsenal to keep defenders guessing and so they do not zero in on defending against one particular move.
Houston is another player on the list of 4-3 end and 3-4 outside linebacker hybrids. He is one of the top defensive end/outside linebacker hybrids available in this year's draft, and where he's selected could ultimately depend on which player the team making the selection likes more. He would likely fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but teams running the 4-3 will surely give him a look as well.
He was unsure whether he should come out a year early, but ultimately decided on January 15, which is the deadline for underclassmen to declare their eligibility for the draft, to forego his senior season. Houston was suspended in 2009 for violating team rules (reportedly violating the university's substance abuse policy), but this has not seemed to affect his stock. He was suspended the first two games of the 2009 season as a result of the incident.
Potential NFL Team, Round
Houston could find himself taken anywhere in the range of the 10th pick to the 21st pick. There are several teams operating a 3-4 defense in that range including the Washington Redskins, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. I like him to come off the board somewhere between the 17th pick to the Patriots and the 21st pick to the Chiefs. A few good workouts could elevate his stock and possibly see him selected in the top part of the middle of the first round to Washington or Houston.
Should he fall out of the middle of the first round, he could be snagged by a team like the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons or Chicago Bears, where he'd play defensive end in their 4-3 alignments, or he could go to a team like the New England Patriots (with their second pick in the first round), New York Jets or Green Bay Packers where he'd play outside linebacker in their 3-4 alignments.
Danny Hobrock, a sports journalist covering NCAA Football and MLB is the editor of our college football content. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock
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