If you are looking for one NFL player that is capable of a breakout season in 2012 then look no farther than Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston.
The Chiefs drafted Houston in the third round out of Georgia and getting him there was a steal. Houston was projecting as a mid-first round pick before he tested positive for marijuana use at the NFL Combine. Teams backed away from a player stupid enough to smoke weed so close to such an important event but the Chiefs felt that Houston’s value was too great to pass on in round three. They also felt that, after talking with Houston, that there wouldn’t be any future trouble.
So far, KC’s investment is paying off big time.
Houston got off to a slow start last season (what Chiefs player didn’t), but by the end of the year he had forced his way into the starting lineup and soon he became an every-down player. In fact, Houston’s numbers and grades from Pro Football Focus indicated that he could be a monster in 2012. First, take a look at Houston’s overall grades from 2011.
Houston’s first four weeks were crap. After that he didn’t play as much and when he did he was average. Then, from Week 10 on, save a slip-up against the eventual AFC Champions Patriots, Houston was a beast. He finished the season with an overall grade of +6.8.
Yet there was a clear moment when Houston “got it” and it appeared to come around Week 10. We were tracking Houston’s progress here on AA and we had already noticed he had gone from bad to average and correctly predicted that he was about to turn the corner.*
*This is just one of the many reasons you should subscribe to premium stats at Pro Football Focus.
So what kind of season might Houston have in 2012? Chances are he could be even better than he was from Week 10 on of last season. But what if he was just equally as good? What would his numbers look like?
In 2011,Houston finished the year with six sacks, three QB hits, 13 QB hurries, three batted passes, 45 tackles and 32 stops.*
*The official NFL numbers credit Houston for a few more tackles. They also credit him with -.5 a sack. We’re using PFF numbers here because we believe them to be more accurate. PFF doesn’t give out 1/2 sacks. If two players get there at the same time, they both get credit for a sack.
His grades from PFF were as follows:
Overall: +6.8, Run D: +7.4, Pass Coverage: -7.6
If we take his numbers from Week 10 on, average them out and project them for an entire season, they look like this.
4 QB hits
22 QB hurries
+33.4 overall grade
How does that +33.4 overall grade stack up against all 3-4 OLB from 2011?
It would be good for #3 in the entire NFL behind only Cameron Wake (+43.5) and Aldon Smith (+36.4) and ahead of players like Demarcus Ware (+32.6) and even Tamba Hali (+31.4).
The 50 stops?
Yeah, that’d be the best in the NFL.
The stops are really important because those are plays basically blown up by Houston. Add to that 12 sacks and you’ve got yourself an absolute force at OLB opposite Tamba Hali.
2012 will be Houston’s second season in Romeo Crennel’s defense. He’ll likely benefit from a full offseason of work and a more structured preseason plan from Romeo Crennel rather than Todd Haley’s “we’ll take it slow approach.” Houston should be ready right out of the gate this season and if he can string together 17 weeks of play comparable to his last eight weeks of football in 2011, the Kansas City Chiefs defense is going to be very, very good.
And Justin Houston could be heading to the Pro Bowl.