There aren’t many first round draft prospects that can work in the LEO position, but Justin Houston is one of them.
Robert Quinn (DE, UNC) and Aldon Smith (DE Missouri) are the two other players that would warrant the first round investment, but neither are likely to be around at #25. Houston could and probably will be.
I think by design it’s a position that will always create the opportunity to ‘stat pad’. Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock both had career years in the role and an argument could be made that it isn’t worth a high pick when production is almost manufactured. John Morgan argues soundly the counter to that opinion.
The LEO is most effective when you can create one-vs-one match ups in space to exploit the speed of your pass rusher. The best way to create those opportunities is to have penetration from your interior lineman and at least one guy who can soak up blocks. Personally I think the Seahawks can stand to benefit from landing one great nose tackle in this scheme that can do just that.
At the same time, finding an elite pass rusher can make or break a defense. The Seahawks simply don’t have enough playmakers on either side of the ball and a difference maker rushing the edge can be that. Imagine what the LEO could achieve without an over reliance on blitz packages?
I remain unconvinced Seattle will draft for the position in round one unless a Quinn or Smith falls to them, but it’s worth looking at perhaps the only other guy that warrants consideration. Here’s the tape:
The LEO isn’t just about quicks and a solid speed rush. These guys have stand up against the run too to avoid becoming a liability and this can be an issue considering you’re looking at under sized prospects. Houston played at Georgia listed at 6-3 and 258lbs which is fine for the LEO, but clearly not big for a defensive lineman expected to play three downs.
He’s generally quite strong for his size and the real problem he has in this area is a situation a lot of rookies face - leverage. It’s a common issue for a lot of these young guys enterting the league and Houston is no different. When he stays high he’s easily run out of the play. When he gets the leverage right he’s shown he’s more than capable of setting the edge.
Houston has the kind of edge speed needed for the LEO role – he can take an exaggerated route around an offensive tackle and loop back round to make the play. His foot speed and he doesn’t rely on a sudden burst. It helps him to make plays – as emphasised by his 18 sacks during the last two years in the SEC.
Sometimes he’s a split second late in making a judgement or will take a bad angle – both emphasised here at 1:52 when he makes the correct read (albeit slightly too late) and he’s unable to get the correct position to complete a tackle he should make.
Occasionally he struggles to shed blocks, we see this at 1:42, 2:02, 3:59, 6:53, 8:46 and 11:39. His hand use is poor and I don’t think he has the upper body strength to ever develop against this. It might have to be something you compensate for considering his speed and quick burst.
We also see a tackle can use Houston’s speed against him to run him out of plays when he over extends (4:19).
But the big problem I have with Houston is that he leaves effort on the field. He plays at times like he needs some fire, there isn’t that relentless style you see from other prospects slated to go in round one. Physically there’s talent on show, but he needs to match it with a real burning desire to impact every play.
When he’s driven out of contention initially, he seems to accept it too easily and gives up. Having recently looked at Phil Taylor at 337lbs sprinting from one side of the field to another to make a simple tackle on the running back he wasn’t expected to make, it’s disappointing to see that missing in Houston considering he’s 80lbs lighter.
Houston doesn’t have a great repertoire of pass rush moves either. Really, he just relies on pure edge speed and we don’t see a lot of creativity. As discussed earlier – once a tackle locks into his pads he struggles to break free. He rarely cuts inside and always look to round the edge. His speed is good enough to get away with that in college but can he trouble the top pro-lineman in the same way doing the same thing over and over again?
To a certain degree Houston is half-way to becoming a very interesting prospect. His natural speed and ability as an edge rusher will warrant serious late first round consideration alone. He’s not weak given his smaller frame and he will help set the edge – and he generally doesn’t miss tackles. However, he needs to find a relentless streak and he needs to find more ways to beat his man.
Although I think someone will draft him in the 20-40 range in April, I don’t think that team will be Seattle. He’s a bit more of a project than some of the other defensive lineman in this class and although the results may be good down the line – I’m not sure a LEO project is what this team is looking for. They’ve found some level of production from a low-end trade (Clemons) and a free agent (Brock). Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith are more rounded prospects overall and can start quickly, Houston is pure potential.