Chiefs’ Rookie Justin Houston Finishing Strong


The Kansas City Chiefs may not make the playoffs this season thanks to inconsistent play and devastating injuries, but if rookie Justin Houston is any indication of the future, KC fans should be excited.

Houston was taken by the Chiefs in the third round of last year’s NFL Draft. Projected to be selected in the first round, Houston’s draft stock slid thanks to a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. In the third round, however, Houston was worth the risk.

Like many rookies often do, Houston struggled early as he adjusted to the NFL. His lot wasn’t made any easier by the NFL lockout, but Houston’s talent was quickly on display during the preseason. It seemed only a matter of time before Houston turned his athletic talents into production on the field.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on Houston all season long. Early in the season I often noticed the rookie getting blown back by defenders as he tried to set the edge. He was also struggling to beat his man while pass rushing.

Then, slowly, Houston seemed to get it. He began holding his ground a bit better in run defense and even seemed to be inching closer and closer to the QB when rushing.

His Pro Football Focus grades seemed to back up this assessment. After being graded negatively in his first few games, Houston’s marks gradually inched closer to average.

In fact, Houston seems to be improving with each quarter of the season. Let’s take a look at his PFF grades so far.

First Quarter:

Bills: -3.2 (37 snaps)
Lions: +0.1 (28 snaps)
Chargers: -2.0 (36 snaps)
Vikings: -3.5 (53 snaps)

Second Quarter:

Colts: -0.4 (20 snaps)
Raiders: -0.7 (34 snaps)
Chargers: 0.0 (42 snaps)
Dolphins: -0.3 (13 snaps)

Third Quarter:

Broncos: +2.9 (54 snaps)
Patriots: -1.3 (66 snaps)
Steelers: +4.6 (66 snaps)
Bears: ? ? ? ? ?

With any rookie, you are going to have ups and downs. Houston’s ascent isn’t going to be a straight line but you can see from these numbers that he is definitely trending upward.

If Houston showed in the Denver game that he was starting to “get it,” then the Pittsburgh game was dang close to a coming out party. Houston racked up five tackles, a pressure, a batted pass and four stops (offensive failure).

Check this out:

First eight games: 16 tackles, 2 pressures, 0 batted passes, 7 stops

Last three games: 12 tackles, 1 pressure, 1 batted pass, 9 stops

Right now, it appears as though Houston is becoming a force in the running game. It makes sense that he struggled a bit against pass-happy New England, especially since Brady gets the ball out quickly and Houston’s pass rush is still a work in progress.

But against the Steelers and Broncos, Houston was excellent, blowing up four plays in each of those games. His pass rush also appeared to come alive against the Steelers. Houston graded a +1.6 in that department last week, far and away his best PR grade of the year.

This weekend’s game should provide an excellent challenge for Houston as he looks to cap off a very successful quarter of the season. The Bears feature a dynamic running attack featuring Matt Forte (who has been off the chain all year) and Marion Barber. Chicago figures to lean even more on their running game this week after losing QB Jay Cutler. If Houston can help contain or shut down the Chicago running game, he’ll put the Chiefs’ secondary in an excellent position to succeed.

For a team looking for silver linings during a dismal season, Houston is starting to look rather shiny.