Justin Houston (DE, Georgia) game tape

Justin Houston had 11 sacks for Georgia in 2010

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.


  1. Matt

    I’ve watched him play a couple times this year, he is definatley a good player. I can’t say I’d be thrilled about drafting him in round one though, i’d rather have Phil Taylor, Jake Locker, or Ryan Mallet. He would be great if he fell to us in round 2, but what almost definatley will not happen.

  2. Alex

    I wouldn’t take him. Since our DE deficiency can be schematically covered, we should take advantage of that and address one of the other needs e.g. Nose Tackle, 5 Tech, QB, CB, or OG. It would be more of a luxury pick in terms of need and BPA.


  3. Sean L

    What about Dontay Moch from Nevada, in round 2? Depending on how he does at the combine and pro day. I think he is a LEO in every sense of the position.

    • Rob

      For me he’s going to be a pure 4-3 OLB. He’s not big enough to stand up on the line vs the run and his skill set and lateral speed is perfect for linebacker.

  4. Matt Q.

    I am really starting to want jake locker. I think washington will pass on him but i would love to have him

  5. Glen

    I have to say the last week or so I’ve been pretty high on Houston as a solid option for Seattle. He shows those glimpses of what he could be, but I completely agree that the consistent effort doesnt always show up.

    I found it interesting this week in a Q & A session on Twitter Pete Carroll specifically said they are looking to add as “starters” as they can this year in the draft. I think that says a lot about the state of the roster. I think it takes guys like Houston out of the equation.

  6. Ben

    Hey Rob I was wondering what you thought of Jabaal Sheard (6-4 260) from Pitt. I’ve seen him projected in the third and my amateur scout eye thinks he looks like a Leo.

    A trade I’ve thought of to maybe finagle a draft pick (possibly a third?) is if we wanted Mallett, we could trade down with one of the teams between the Falcons at 27 and the Patriots at 33. None of the teams immediately below us need a QB so theoretically we’d be safe. Someone could trade up ahead of us but if they’d do it then, why wouldn’t they have done it ahead of us at 25? Just a thought.

    • Rob

      I like Sheard and it’s a very solid suggestion Ben. Whether he lasts until the third remains to be seen and I think he could be an option at #57 for Seattle.

      • Ben

        Cool good to know.

        • Blake

          If Justin Houston is available with our pick that would be a good guy to bait the trade down, Ben. He would interest NE, NYJ, GB, and maybe PIT because Woodley is a free agent and Harrison is declining rapidly. Even BUF, CLE, and DEN would wanna trade up from the top of round 2 which I would still take. He could be an appealing bargaining chip.

  7. 1sthill

    Rob, I like Houston’s potential, but I don’t want to use a 1st round pick on a LEO. You have mentioned before that players can be found later in the draft that would be good fits at the LEO, which I believe as well. The front office has proven they can fill that position with second tier free agents type players and those players became highly productive. I have a laundry list of players I like as potential LEO’s in rounds 2 through 7. Here are just the guys that I like, in no particular order, as potential LEO’s that we can get later in the draft;

    Cliff Matthews 6-4 260 lbs. (South Carolina)
    Brooks Reed 6-3 555 lbs. (Arizona)
    Markus White 6-4 262 lbs. (Florida St)
    Ryan Winterswyk 6-4 267 lbs. (Boise St)
    Justin Trattou 6-3 252 lbs. (Florida)
    Ugo Chinasa 6-5 252 lbs. (Oklahoma St)
    Chris Walker 6-3 245 lbs. (Tennessee)
    Wayne Daniels 6-2 250 lbs. (TCU)
    Ricky Elmore 6-5 250 lbs. (Arizona)

    For the most part these guys are DE/LB tweeners with enough quickness for the LEO and some need a bit more development than others. I have seen all these players at some point and I’m sure you could probably add another hand full of players to this list of LEO prospects as well. A young mid-late round rookie could get a fair amount of reps rushing the passer in our “Bandit defense” and maybe another 8-10 reps per game backing up Clemmons.

    While I think it should be fairly easy to find prospects that fit at LEO in the later rounds, I don’t think that is the case for our 5-tech. In my opinion our 5-tech need to be at least 6ft 3in tall and at least 305 lbs. There are maybe 3 or 4 prospects that I think would be a good fit our 5-tech and all are projected to be selected in the first three rounds; top prospects for our 5-tech being Phil Taylor (6-4 337 lbs.), Jarvis Jenkins (6-4 310 lbs.), & Kendrick Ellis (6-5 336 lbs.).

    • Blake

      Obviouly Dareus and Fairley would fit as well despite being closer to 300. The two fatties are real good prospects but Jenkins has no bend and no pass rush upside. I actually would like Jenkins on the inside, but he does not move laterally well enough to play outside. The other two have a shot to develop into pretty solid pass rushers as well as absorbing blocks and offerring scheme versatility. I think another option is Lawrence Guy 6’5″ 300. He can be a little finesse but he has some pretty good hands for a mid rounder. He offers a lot of upside as a pass rusher to compliment Bryant in a sub package. Your guidelines of height and weight are right on for both positions.

      Dex Davis is about the same as the Leos you have listed so I don’t know that it would be worth it to have four leos on the roster. If we could sneak someone on the practice squad then ya that would make sense, otherwise we would have to cut/release one of our three leos. I’d rather spend the pick on an offensive linemen due to the regularity in which mid round linemen develop into starters.

  8. 1sthill

    I agree that Dareus and Farley would be good fits as our 5-tech, but in did not include them because they will be long gone by the time we select at #25. Dareus I think could be a monster 5-tech and Farley would be a disruptive force for us mainly as a 3-tech. Lawrence Guy name has popped up a few times and your description of him is intriguing. He sounds like he could get reps at the 3 & 5 a quality backup with potential starter material in the future.

    I guess I am not as high on Dexter Davis as you are, because I don’t see him as anything more than a good special team’s player. He looks to have average to below average quickness for a DE or LEO. Maybe Davis can play LB, but he looks too stiff to play that position. I know he was a highly productive college player and I was excited to see him play when we drafted him, but he never flashed the quickness when he got reps as a DE. The players I listed are more explosive than Davis, except Wayne Daniels. I have mixed reviews on Daniels, he flashed as a pass rusher one game I scouted him and the other he didn’t.

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