For all the bad news that is coming out of Kansas City this season, there are some positive things happening.
Mainly, second year OLB Justin Houston is budding into a star.
The Chiefs selected Houston in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. Houston was seen by many as a potential first round selection; however, a failed drug test at the scouting combine is often blamed for his slide into the third round.
The Chiefs snagged Houston up and it he is making good on their investment. Houston has not had any off-field troubles since coming to KC but more importantly, his on-field performance has been terrific.
Houston snagged the starting role out of the gate as a rookie, but the NFL lockout hurt rookies the most and Houston’s lack of experience showed. He quickly lost his starting role and was relegated to sub-package defense.
Then, suddenly, Houston began to improve. We chronicled Houston’s rise here at Arrowhead Addict, using his Pro Football Focus grades to back us up. He began the season with four poor games. Then, after moving to second string, he turned in four pretty average games. He wasn’t making a huge impact but he wasn’t playing nearly as badly as he had earlier in the season. We wondered aloud if Houston would make further progress over his next four games.
And he did.
Starting in Week 10 against the Broncos, Houston scored his highest PFF grade of the season with a +2.7 (+3.0 run defense). He started and struggled the next week against the Patriots but then it was off to the races with overall game grades of +4.3, +3.3, -0.9, +1.4, +1.4, +3.6 to finish the season. PFF credited him with six sacks and 13 QB hurries. He also was responsible for 32 stops on the season.
In 2012, Houston picked up where he left off in 2011. In fact, as of this moment, Houston is Pro Football Focus’s highest graded 3-4 OLB, with a mark of +18.0.
And get this: Houston’s worst game of the season was last week against the Denver Broncos (-1.5), a game in which he recorded two sacks and four stops.
What is really remarkable about Houston’s season is that he’s managed to do it despite the fact that the team around him is terrible. Kansas City’s offense is so bad that the team didn’t play with a lead until Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Houston had his best game of the season, raking up a grade of +6.0.
In fact, if not for Houston, the Chiefs would likely be 0-11. RB Jamaal Charles is often credited for fueling KC’s only win of the season vs. the New Orleans Saints. While the game certainly wouldn’t have been won if not for Charles, they wouldn’t have won without Houston either. The former Georgia Bulldog sacked Drew Brees three times, once in the endzone for a crucial safety. The Chiefs won the game in overtime, which means without the safety, KC likely wouldn’t have been able to complete its comeback.
There is a lot of work that still needs to be done in Kansas City, particularly on offense, but even during one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Justin Houston has shown he’ll be a force for years to come.