The Colts recently signed free agent veteran linebacker, Justin Houston, to a two-year deal worth up to $24 million. The aging pass-rusher has been very clear he has a lot left in the tank and will get after the quarterback relentlessly.
Houston was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in round 3 (pick 70) of the 2011 NFL draft. The young linebacker immediately made an impact with 5.5 sacks and 56 total tackles in his first season. The next year he doubled his sack total with 10 then in 2013 he gained 11 sacks with a combined 100 tackles in that same time span. What’s impressive is 21 of those tackles were sacks leading to a nearly 1-5 ratio of sacks to tackles. His best year was in 2014 with 22.0 sacks and 70 total tackles, producing what would be his career-best year. Over the next 4 seasons, he’d struggled with injury issues and gain 147 tackles and 30.5 sacks and even when he only played 4 games in 2016, he still had 4 sacks and 20 tackles, staying consistent to that 1-5 sack to tackle ratio.
Looking at his overall career, Justin Houston has 78.5 sacks and 118 QB hits with a 66% ratio of hits to sacks. Meaning, there is a 66% chance he will take the QB down if his hands get on him. Compare that to some of the premier pass-rushers currently today such as Von Miller’s ratio, who was also drafted in 2011, of 98 sacks to 196 QB hits of 50% and Kahlil Mack’s 53 sacks to 102 hits of 51%. Let’s even go back and look at previous pass-rusher greats such as Dwight Freeney with 125 sacks and 148 QB hits with a ratio of a whopping 84%. Michael Strahan, the current sack record holder of 22.5 (only .5 less than Houston’s 2014 campaign) of 12 sacks to 27 QB hits of 41% (Note: QB hits didn’t start being recorded until 2006. The sack and QB hits were taken from 2006 and 2007 years).
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Even looking at Cameron Wake with 98 sacks and 244 QB hits with a 46% ratio. Brandon Graham is another pass-rusher who has 42.5 sacks and 90 tackles with 47% ratio. We can even look at J.J Watt the current, I believe, best defensive player in the league right now, with 92 sacks and 244 tackles with a 37% ratio.
When I first saw Justin Houston’s 66% ratio it was shocking it was so low. Then after more research, I found it’s actually one of the highest among current NFL players. Not to mention every player he’s played with has talked about his motor and how high octane he is. He’s so relentless he has a 15.3% pressure rating since 2006. He’s #4 behind Von Miller at #1 (17.1%), Cameron Wake at #2 (16.7%), and Brandon Graham #3 (16%). Comparing him to the top-rated pass-rushers currently by pro-football-reference, Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, and Geno Atkins. Donald has 59.5 sacks and 149 QB hits with a 39% ratio. Cox has 44.5 sacks and 111 QB hits with a 40% ratio, and Atkins has 71 sacks with 161 QB hits with a 44% ratio. Compare that to Houston’s 66% ratio for his career.
So what can we expect from him? I predict he will have 11 sacks and around 60 tackles for the Colts. The Colts have recently stated they want to focus on the run game this season and become a top 5 run campaign which will help the defense stay off the field and take pressure off Andrew Luck and the passing game. If the defense can play like they did last year and the corners can develop a little more, the defensive ends can get after the QB much better than last year.
Here are Justin Houston’s grades:
Pass-rushing ability: A- with a 1-5 sack to tackle and 66% QB hit to sack ratio is one of the highest among current NFL players.
Tackles: B+ Houston is a pass rusher first but he can also tackle in the run game. He’s got great ability to get his hands on tackles and he can line up as a left end, right end, or linebacker as well. I expect stunts with him and Leonard to get him one-on-one with a tackle or a guard.
Locker Room Presence: A+ Every player who’s played with him has always said how great of a man he is and how much of a leader he is.
Overall: A The Colts got the highest percentage QB hit-to-sack ratio player in the NFL currently at a killer deal. The two-year deal is perfect for the Colts as if leaves an out if he gets injured again.