Chiefs’ Justin Houston: The NFL’s Best 3-4 OLB

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.

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Tags: Justin Houston Kansas City Chiefs

  • chiefridgy

    Houston is a beast!

  • Doc

    Is it me or what because when I watch Houston play, I have flashbacks of DT playing? He has that quick outside the corner move that Derrick used to employ. He should only get better. Can you imagine where the Chiefs would be if we had an offense that can put TDs on the board and this defense?

    • Patrick Allen

      What I love about him is hat he is a complete player. He can drop in to coverage, he can rush the passer and he can play the run. He’s a better all-around player than Tamba. That is impressive.

      • KCMikeG

        He is our best cover LB already but I hate seeing him in coverage because he is also our best pass rusher! Little pat on my back w/o breaking my arm – i predicted Houston would out perform Hali this year and have the posts to verify it. Sorry to toot my own horn but I am right so little these days I had to celebrate this call a bit!

  • Lyle Graversen

    Just pretend Houston was our 1st round pick that year and Baldwin was in the 3rd, you’ll sleep better at night.

    • Patrick Allen

      This might be one of the best comments in AA history. So perfect it isn’t even funny.

      • KCMikeG

        OR you could Homerize (aka the truthiness – thanks Colbert) it by saying we got BOTH of them in the 1st round since it is the TRUTH. Pioli traded back to pick Baldwin and got Houston for FREE! Just the best OLB and a young, strong WR whose value is still TBD with a full offseason, a better coaching staff and a real QB. Terrible 1st round pick! Off with his head!

  • Cha-iefs

    Just wait until theres a Offense scoring points in KC and the other teams are playing down 2 tds and then TH & JH can really get after the QB. JH hasn’t even hit his stride yet!

    • KCMikeG

      True that brother! More drives = less time on the field for the defense + more predictable opponent play calling = maximum performance on a > # of plays = success!

  • KCMikeG

    Thank you Paddy for the ray of sunshine to light the pits of desperation. Maybe a post on how awesome Charles is even with no pass game and an OL held together with baling wire and duct tape would spread the light of hope again on the Chiefs Kingdom.