On Monday afternoon, the Detroit Lions announced that they are signing promising rookie edge/LB James Houston to the active roster and placing edge rusher Charles Harris on injured reserve.
Houston was drafted in the sixth round after his senior season at Jackson State saw him register 70 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, 75 pressures (per PFF), seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown), and one interception, also returned for a touchdown.
Early in training camp, the Lions tried to test the limits of Houston’s range, getting him exposure in a pass rushing linebacker role, as well as using him in a stack role—something he had done during his time at the University of Florida, and expressed interest in resuming. Unfortunately for Houston, the jump from Jackson State to the NFL proved to have a bigger learning curve than most had hoped and he failed to make the initial 53-man roster.
But Houston is loaded with talent and while it was not yet blossomed, he was a long-term project worth developing and he was signed to the practice squad. For the first, 11 weeks of the season Houston remained on the practice squad, but his reputation was growing and coach Campbell had noted he was excited to get a look at what Houston could do in an NFL game.
“We have a lot of guys left to get a good look at,” Campbell said back in October. “I mean I’d love to find a way to get Houston up at some point.”
That time arrived in Week 12, when the Lions needed depth on the edge due to injury, and Houston was elevated from the practice squad for the game. The plan was pretty straightforward for Houston against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving: contribute on special teams and help out on defense in specific pass rush situations.
Houston saw just five snaps on defense and 10 on special teams, but his impact was undeniable, as he registered two sacks and recorded a fumble recovery on a Kalif Raymond punt return.
On Saturday, we recorded our Mailbag PODcast, and no surprise, we were overloaded with questions surrounding Houston’s game and if the Lions should make a move to sign him. The bottom line for us came down to the fact that his performance was so impressive of what Houston could become, that it would make sense to sign him before another team tried to poach him from their practice squad.
With Harris landing on injured reserve, Julian Okwara injured in last week’s game, and Romeo Okwara looking like he may, at a minimum, be another week away from returning, Houston could be in line for a pass rushing role as soon as this weekend’s game.
As for Harris, this could very well spend the end of his 2022 season with Detroit. He spent most of the season battling this groin injury, only making six game appearances tallying 14 tackles and 1.0 in those contests. It’s a disappointing development after his promising 2021 season earned him a two-year, $13 million contract with the Lions this past offseason.
Harris is technically eligible to return to the team for their Week 17 game against the Chicago Bears, but the Lions may choose to just shut him down and let some of their younger players—like Houston—play the season out.
Harris is signed with the Lions through the 2023 season and is set to count for nearly $8 million against next season's salary cap, with roughly half of that guaranteed via signing bonus and a voided year.