Packers Prospect Profile – LB Justin Houston, University of Georgia

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1) Profile:

Justin Houston

College: Georgia

Position: OLB (3-4), DE (4-3)

Height: 6’3″   Weight: 260 lbs.

Born: January 1, 1989 From: Statesboro, GA

2) High School / College Highlights: According to his Georgia bio, Houston was a class 4A All-State Honorable Mention his senior season, and was All-Region in both his junior and senior years.

Coming out of high school, Rivals.com ranked him as their No. 21 defensive end prospect, ESPN had him at No. 27, and Scout.com ranked him No. 42. During his junior season, Statesboro High won the class 4A State championship.

Houston decided to stay home and attend the University of Georgia. Like many mid-level freshman recruits, Houston began his college career by redshirting in 2007. He played in 13 games (2.5 sacks) the next season, but 2009 was the year that he really broke out. In 10 games, Houston had a team-leading 15 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks, and was awarded with AP Second Team All-SEC honors.

While still somewhat of an unknown before last season, Houston stamped his name among the draft’s top pass-rushers with a dominant 13-game showing. He racked up 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for losses and 44 quarterback pressures on his way to being named an AP First Team All-SEC selection. Originally slated in the middle rounds, Houston’s play last season shot himself into the first round discussion.

3) College Stats: 36 games/24 starts, 70 solo/26 assisted tackles, 20.0 sacks/134 yards lost, 38 tackles for losses/168 yards lost, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 5 passes broken up, 1 interception, 78 quarterback pressures.

4) NFL Combine Results: 4.68 second 40-yard dash, 30 bench presses, 36.5″ vertical jump, 10’5″ broad jump, 6.95 second cone drill, 4.37 second 20-yard shuttle, 11.46 60-yard shuttle.

5) Strengths/Weaknesses: His 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine suggests Houston might not be explosive off the edge, but that number is very misleading. Houston has an excellent first step, and his flexibility has allowed him to dip his shoulder around offensive tackles. He also counters the dip move with a solid outside-to-inside fake that kept SEC tackles on their heels all season.

Georgia also switched their defense to a 3-4 last season, so Houston has experience rushing the passer from a standing position. His performance at the both the combine and his pro day erased many of the big concerns about playing in space.

Houston does have some weaknesses, however. In college, he tended to rely on his speed to get around tackles and very rarely used power moves to get to the quarterback. At the next level, he’ll need to improve and expand his pass rushing repertoire to be a consistent sack-threat.

And while his recent workout performances did alleviate many of his coverage concerns, Houston will never be a specialist in that area. In fact, chances are he’ll struggle early on in his career if asked to do that consistently.

Finally, Houston was suspended for Georgia’s first two games in 2009 after violating team rules. However, all accounts say he matured as a team leader afterwards and was one of the most active Bulldogs in the Athens, GA community.

6) Fit for the Packers: If you’re a believer in the idea that the Packers need an outsider linebacker opposite Clay Matthews, than picking Houston makes a lot of sense. His skill set rivals, and most likely dwarfs, any outside linebacker (excluding Matthews) the Packers had on their 2010-2011 roster.

Given the adequate time with coach Kevin Greene, you’d have to believe that Houston can become a disruptive force rushing the passer. If that’s the case, the Packers would feature a defense with two highly skilled pass rushers on the edge—certainly a scary endeavor for any NFL offense facing Green Bay.

7) Highlight video

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • David Johnson

    Justin Houston would be a good fit along side Clay Mathews but I just dont see him making it to us at 32. I think were more in line for a Akeem Ayers or Brooks Reed at that pick.

    • Zach Kruse

      David—-you’re most likely right about that. Most mocks have him going in the 20-25 range…but he would have to be an option if he fell to 32.

  • peter kliman

    Put together a highlight reel of Zombo’s season in the pros and it would be similar .I still believe Pouncy or Cobb would be better picks because they fill needs.

    • Zach Kruse

      Peter–that’s the underlying debate here. Is OLB really a need? I’m getting the feeling more and more that fans really don’t think it’s a glaring problem. I’d have to generally agree—-defensive line and offensive line are more pressing.

  • FireMMNow

    i like houston a little bit. once he gets the corner he is pretty good at flattening out and not getting pushed past the pocket. definitely has a feel for rushing the passer. but i do not think he is as explosive as brooks reed (not even close to matthews. no one in this draft is close to CM3 off the snap except miller) it seems like being able to get into the chest of an OL or getting that upfield shoulder quickly is the most important attribute for a 3-4 OLB. i think OLB is a need. i cannot think of another position on our team that could have as much impact as a really good OLB.

    OLB opposite clay was barely adequate last year and it is one of the major keys in Dom’s defense.

    I like brooks reed better and I think houston will be there at #32.

    • Zach Kruse

      I think a lot of people have fallen in love with Brooks Reed, and understandably so. He does have tremendous burst off the edge, and, coincidentally, looks just like Clay. I think in the first round, you HAVE to find a starter next year either at OLB or on the offensive line.

  • FireMMNow

    also, if CM3 gets hurt we have NOTHING in terms of a pass rush. We need to upgrade OLB and the depth at OLB.

  • PackersRS

    I drool at his broad jump and 3 cone drill (indications of elite lower body explosion and great lateral agility). Also get very excited at his 20 yard shuttle and 10 yard dash (good first step and agility).

    I shiver of fear with his gametape and demeanor. He shuts down occasionally, and that won’t fly on the next level.

    I said before, the only elite 3-4 OLB prospect in this year’s draft is Von Miller. The rest IMHO won’t be elite pass rushers. But they can be very good complementary players. Lucky us, that’s what we need.

    • Zach Kruse

      PackersRS, you bring up an interesting point. In the first round, do you draft an OLB just to be a “complementary player,” as you say Houston is? That’ll be the big question. If Thompson and the staff doesn’t think any OLB will be an elite guy on the edge when they’re up at 32, do they really pick him there just because he fills a “need”? In my opinion, you need to find an impact starter in the first round. You can find “complementary” players later in the draft.

      • PackersRS

        What do you think of Anthony Spencer of DAL? IMHO it’s a similar case.

        Complementary player might be a bit negative. And on top of that, it’s rare when an immediate impact player falls that far into the 1st round.

        I would rank a complementary OLB as a more important, more valuable piece than a starting DE like Wilkerson, or a 3rd CB/S like Aaron Williams.

        It’s the importance of the position, plus the perceived need we have. Plus, it’s just my take, that none of the OLB will be great pass rushers a la Ware, Matthews, Suggs, Woodley… They could very well turn out to be.

        And even if they don’t, I think the goal in the draft is to find good players that make your team better, regardless of where you pick them. I do think that both him and Ayers (moreso Ayers) would fit nicely into our team, and make our defense even better.

  • http://httl bill from jersey

    defense wins championships period…as great as our offense was it was our D that got us there..eagles,bears and our D than won the SUPER BOWL.that being said….d-line,olb then wide reciever,wide reciever…driver is done and jones might be. after that its best available.good point on matthews being our only pass rusher although neal looks very stout,our d struggled mightily when matthews was out.one more thing, we should keep barnnett and get rid of chillar and or popinga…any comments lets hear it

    • Zach Kruse

      Bill, I agree with you about the defensive line even though I previewed Houston first. Early next week I’ll be previewing a defensive line prospect I really think the Packers should take a hard look at with pick 32.

      About Barnett…I think it’d be great to keep him around, but with a salary cap coming back next season, it’s going to be hard to justify keeping his salary on the roster. He’ll almost certainly be in a much more limited role next year with Hawk and Bishop penciled in as starters.

  • STERLING84

    Bill…..Barnett sucks. He just sucks man. He is not the type of player that will settle being a backup. He’s gone, so sell your Barnett jersey on Ebay immediately. I agree that the Packers could use another WR. We need to get Greg Little from North Carolina. STUD!!

    • PackersRS

      Barnett is a better ILB than Hawk, except in communication skills, which are imperative to the Capers’ D.
      He’s a little worse than Bishop, thus he’s a backup.

      That being said, he’s a great backup, IMHO the best in the league. The problem is his demeanor and his salary.

      But we saw last year that depth is greatly welcomed. I wouldn’t want Chillar, Wilhelm or François stepping up if Hawk or Bishop eventually go down. With Barnett, I”m very comfortable if anything should happen.

  • Yoop

    I never hear anyone say anything about a player improving his second year. Zombo is a PERFECT example of that.
    Zombo was 4-3 DE , NEVER played in coverage, always played with his hand down an he played damn well.
    Zombo at 6-3 253# ran a 4.71 40, 1.61 ten yard time, 35.5″ vertical, 10’2″ long jump, 4.34 short shuttle and a 7.07 cone drill.
    So you tell me the big difference physically he has with Houston?
    Look at players like Woodley coming out for the Steelers, 2nd round pick, and his numbers are VERY close to Zombo’s.
    Woodley 4.74 40, 1.65 ten yard time, 38″ vertical, 9’9″ long jump, 4.42 short shuttle.

    For me that is a argument, Zombo got better and better as the year went on. Zombo’s 38 tackles and 4 sacks in 8 starts does not suck by any means.
    His play against the run and in coverage was very good.
    And you have to take who is coaching him into consideration also.

    • PackersRS

      Numbers-wise, you are correct. Actually, if you look at Jones’ numbers, you’ll be very impressed (though at 230 pounds).

      The problem is numbers matching production. Though you saw the inconsistency with Houston, you also saw the burst and the CoD ability. Personally, I didn’t see them with Zombo.

      Taking a look at Brooks Reed, for example, you see the burst, but you see the stiffness and unability to dip and change direction, which were reflected by his average 3-cone numbers…

      IMHO, outside of Miller, there isn’t an OLB prospect that has it all, the burst, the power, the agility, and the motor. Everyone of them lacks something.

      They may very well work through it. Suggs is a great pass rusher who’s stiff, but he compensates with relentless motor, quick first step and great power.

      • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

        I don’t think Miller has it all. He is great at one thing – speed rushing. He gets manhandled in the running game, does not pursue like a guy that fast should and has yet to prove he can cover, although I think he will be OK there.

        • PackersRS

          I don’t think he gets manhandled in the running game. I think he can improve in there, and being under 240lbs is a part of that. But he has the physical tools to do it all.

          Clay Matthews in college also has those problems, but, as with Miller, he was asked primarily to rush the passer.

          Miller has the ability to speed rush, but he also has the ability to dip his hips, and has a knack for making plays. That is imperative in an elite pass rusher. You can teach pass rushing moves. You can’t teach natural balance, explosion and agility.

  • Taryn

    I don’t put much of an expectation in 1st round drafts coming after 20,as to impact as a starter.At 32,this should be a given that whoever it is won’t be starting.
    IMO,teams that must start draftees are the ones that are in trouble and is why they draft first,alot.
    The top tier teams are drafting for/hopefully two years out.The Packers will not be drafting a start now guy in any round for any position.

    Before Bulaga comes up,the blessing was Tauscher coming back and Bulaga didn’t have to start.The second blessing was when Tauscher went down and Bulaga was able to start.But Bulaga was never intended to start or hopefully not play a down except in un-loseable situations that weren’t as many as hoped.
    Matthews was the exception as Capers NEEDED that OLB and Matthews WAS the STARTER pick.Not because of a draft position,but the most apt to fullfill it,and the knowing he would be gone by our second.
    TT drafted BPA position need twice,Bulaga@ OL(OT) and CM3(OLB).IMO

    • PackersRS

      Actually, Kampman, Poppinga, and Thompson were to be the starters in 09. Matthews didn’t start till the 4th game. And that’s because Thompson quit fotball.

      The guy, BTW, could’ve been a very good OLB if he could’ve stayed healthy. 1.53 10 yard dash, 6.97 3 cone, 4.23 20 yard shuttle, all while at 264 pounds.

      Numbers-wise, he was a better athlete than everybody in this year’s draft.

    • PackersRS

      Also, IIRC, Matthews was in the mid teens in TT’s board. So he was BPA at 23.

      Raji might be a better case. Crabtree was reportedly the BPA at the #9.

    • peter kliman

      If TT drafts a D line.or a guard ,they will fight for starting jobs. A returner/rec. or back will have the job all to himself.

  • Yoop

    Reeds AVERAGE times?

    Clay Matthews, 4.18 short shuttle, 6.90 3 Cone drill.
    Reeds 4.28 short shuttle and 7.11 3 cone drill.
    And Reed did those numbers at 20#’s heavier then Matthews.
    Now tell me again about his STIFF hips.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Yoop, Watching tape, I see Reed having a real problem changing directions at full speed. Doesn’t make sharp cuts and has to round everything off. That’s why I like him a lot more as a DE than a LB.

  • Yoop

    At 20 pounds heavier and just as quick as Matthews he is not going to change direction as well.
    What happens when they take 10# off him and have him working on LB moves and the physical training for that position?
    In watching Reed I don’t see what he shows in agility to be a problem at all for playing OLB.