Justin Houston Still Remains The Invisible Man
No way were the Kansas City Chiefs going to let Justin Houston potentially walk out that door. KC may have tried to get Houston to take the least amount of money at the negotiation table, but all along they knew they could not escape paying a man who had earned his worth. Nope, No. 50 was not going to take a hometown discount for anybody. And why should he have?
This is a man who totaled 22 sacks in 2014, a half a sack shy of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record. This is a man who has recorded 33 sacks in the past two seasons, which just so happens to be more than reigning Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt. This is a man who has already done stuff like this:
Justin Houston has averaged 1.0 sacks per game over last 3 seasons, 1 of 4 players in last 10 seasons with 1.0+/game in a 3-season span— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 15, 2015
Perhaps because he does not play in New York, Dallas or Green Bay, nobody cares. Or maybe it's because he does not line up on the other side of the ball and catch the occasional touchdown. Regardless, it is hard to find an excuse for the lack of notoriety and appreciation Houston has faced after a monumental start to his career, specifically during and after his 2014 campaign.
This is a player who has shown potential since his rookie season in 2011 and has not looked back. After failing a drug test before the combine, just about everybody took Houston off their radars. It is now safe to say it is time to put him back on. His new contract leaves him no choice.
Is six years, $101 million a lot of money? No doubt. Will Houston live up to the money he was just given? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: it will not be easy. That is no chum change. Yet, in all defense of the Chiefs, they needed him locked up at all costs. They hit the lottery on a risky player a few years ago, and now it is time to make sure they reap the rewards (even if Houston is truly the one cashing in).
Houston is a specimen, a player that only comes around so often. He is so effective with his hands at the line of scrimmage and comes off the edge with a great burst. And of course, like all the great ones, he has that relentless, hunter's pursuit. A motor that never stops churning. Now he has three straight double digit sack seasons to show for it.
A pass rusher like Houston can change the game and a team in so many ways. Look no further than the Chiefs' defense last season. This was a unit highly touted coming into the year, but after losing Mike Devito and Derrick Johnson in Week One to season-ending injuries, it had been prophesied the defense was in some trouble.
In fact, despite losing both Johnson and Devito, Kansas City's strength still lied in their front seven. The real concern was in the secondary after management questionably cut Brandon Flowers. Fast forward to the end of the season, and the Chiefs managed to finish as the No. 2 pass defense behind only Seattle. They also were second in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed.
The fact that the KC defense turned out to be one of the league's best by the end of December is a testament to the impact Houston provides. While guys like Sean Smith and Ron Parker really stepped up in the secondary, the fact of the matter is the Chiefs had no business being the second best pass defense in football. This is no disrespect, but there were clearly better secondaries floating around the league.
However, it all starts to make sense when one considers Kansas City's secret weapon in Houston. This is a player so dominant that he makes every level of the defense better and forces an offense to change the way they play. Ultimately, although sacks have clearly become Mr. Houston's calling card, his performance goes way beyond one figure:
For those of you who do not know, Pro Football Focus offers a variety of advanced statistics to further analyze player performance in the NFL. The Pass Rush Productivity stat mentioned above is just one of these metrics, and it is described on PFF's website as "not only at how many sacks a defensive player gets, but also the hurries and hits and compares that number to the amount of times they actually rushed the passer to see who was the most productive."
Essentially, it is the ultimate pass rushing measurement, and Justin Houston owns it. PFF also conveniently lists total pass rush pressures out of however many pass rush attempts. The comparison of Watt to Houston would probably shock many. It should be noted that they play two entirely different positions. A 3-4 OLB like Houston will need to drop into coverage more as opposed to a 3-4 DE like Watt, but someone who plays Houston's position focuses for the most part on rushing the passer. A 3-4 DE has more of the running game to account for. With that disclaimer...
Houston: 85 pressures on 444 attempts, 19.1%
Watt: 119 pressures on 632 attempts, 18.8%
The translation? J.J. Watt had 30+ more QB pressures in 2014, but only because he was given more opportunities to do so. Although the percentages are practically the same, Houston did more with less in 2014 a nd was a slightly more efficient and effective pass rusher. This is not a conclusion that Houston is a better player or even better pass rusher, but using the Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the best player in football as a barometer to Houston's success is eye-opening.
Right now, it is probably fair to say Watt is more of a complete player given his responsibilities and extremely balanced play. But the argument here is not Watt or Houston. This is a matter of giving Justin some respect. He was counted out once before the 2011 draft; even the Chiefs did not truly believe in him, as they waited three rounds to select him.
Let's go back to sacks in a single season. Pull up the top-10 list of all time, and it will do all the talking. Look at the company Houston is now forever associated with, names that propose an even brighter future for the linebacker entering his fifth season. Michael Strahan, the man of course on the top of the list with 22.5 sacks, was just enshrined into Canton. Chris Doleman, Lawrence Taylor, and Reggie White, all in the hall. J.J. Watt looks on pace to get in, and Jared Allen looks to have a good case as well. A former Chief even sits at No. 10 with 20 sacks: the late and great Derrick Thomas, who (you guessed it), has a bust as well.
This is not to indicate that one season makes a career by any means. It is just to indicate that one historical season is usually no fluke.
After receiving his big contract, Houston actually is no longer invisible. The public eye now will want to see if this $101 million man was worth every penny.
I'm sure Houston will not mind. It's only been four years in the making.