With their second sixth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions made one of their most intriguing selections. James Houston splashed onto NFL Draft radars after notching an eye-popping 16.5 sacks last year with Jackson State. Prior to his season there, he played at the University of Florida as an off-ball linebacker, but only saw snaps in a rotational and subpackage role.
“I didn’t really get that opportunity to (start) at Florida,” Houston told Detroit media after being drafted. “I kind of felt like I should have, and that’s why I left. It was just a great opportunity to be on that field out there with my brothers every snap and just trying to take over the game, trying to control the game. It was an opportunity I definitely needed I felt like in my career as an athlete just to kind of go out there and really show everything that I had, every play.”
Houston’s role in Detroit isn’t exactly clear. Though his breakout season came on the edge the Lions are officially calling him a linebacker, and general manager Brad Holmes simply said they like his versatility.
“Obviously, he’s done some different things from an off-ball position at the University of Florida and then obviously the sack production at Jackson State that he had last year speaks for itself,” Holmes said. “We’re really excited.”
What’s clear about Houston is that he has a good combination of size (6-foot-2, 270), agility (6.95 three-cone), strength and arm length. Combine that with an insanely productive season on the edge, and it seems like a developmental pass rusher may be his role in the NFL. However, the Lions are a bit backed up at that position with Charles Harris, Aidan Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, Josh Paschal and Julian Okwara, among others.
Houston would have a clearer route to the roster if the Lions view him as a linebacker. Detroit’s roster is thin at that position, although they did also draft Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez just 29 picks prior to Houston.
In the immediate, Houston’s best chance to make the roster—as is with most Day 3 picks—is via special teams. Back at Florida, Houston played a lot of special teams, and his athletic traits should translate well to that phase of the game. Houston said he prided himself on being able to contribute on special teams.
“Obviously, I’m going to play an important role in special teams, all four roles,” Houston said. I’m just going to come out there and I’m going to work my heart out. I’m not going to give up, and I can’t wait to get to Detroit.”
Detroit values players who willingly contribute on special teams, and often reward them with playing time if they see the effort is paying off. If Houston brings the intensity we saw last year at Jackson State to Detroit, he could eventually develop beyond a specialist.