The Detroit Lions selected Jackson State’s James Houston in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL draft and his experience playing both off-the-ball linebacker and edge rusher makes for an interesting study.
Houston hails from Florida, having spent his high school years being coached by former All-Pro cornerback Patrick Surtain at American Heritage, a powerhouse of a program located in Southeast Florida, northwest of Miami.
Initially, Houston chose to stay in-state and played his first four years at the University of Florida in Gainesville. And while he was an active contributor during three of those seasons, it was largely at off-the-ball linebacker and as a core special teamer.
After graduating from Florida, he decided that he still had more to accomplish as a football player, and took his talents to Jackson State, where he would play for NFL legend Deion Sanders. However, rather than spending more time as an off-the-ball linebacker, Sanders approached Houston with the idea of making the transition to edge rusher.
Turns out, Sanders was on to something. Houston absolutely balled on the edge, to the tune of 70 total tackles, 24.5 for loss, 75 pressures (per PFF), and 16.5 sacks. He also registered seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned for a touchdown), and one interception, which he also returned for a score. That is some excellent playmaking prowess for a player who did not get to showcase it during his first four years of college football.
Houston possesses a dynamic first step, and a fairly nuanced bag of pass rush moves, especially when you consider he has only been playing the position for such a short amount of time.
At the Lions rookie minicamp, Houston was used exclusively off-the-ball, but his ability to get after the passer is an asset that coaches will surely utilize. It will be interesting to see how and where the coaching staff deploys his unique skill set as he continues to refine his game.
Let’s start by taking a look at a video put together by the Lions.
#Lions James Houston has a unique ability to quickly process what's in front of him and close with a second gear that is drool-worthy.— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) May 7, 2022
Watch him read his first key (RB) recognize the QB still has the ball, react before the pulling guard can get to him, and attack with violence. pic.twitter.com/9eDFh0iIlX
#CelebrationBowl prospects to watch:#JacksonState EDGE James Houston IV is having a monster season this year. He played at Florida as a LB and now is an EDGE/OLB, has 21.5 TFLs and 14.5 sacks this year w/legit bend and closing speed.— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) December 18, 2021
Ohhhh man Mr. Mathis for UGA just got BLASTED by James Houston IV from Florida!!! pic.twitter.com/ioQz4jNesm— JaiHawkFLY (@JaiHawkFly) November 7, 2020
Play #8: James Houston IV applies pressure from the right side. Note the footwork and aggressive hands here pic.twitter.com/dwub0Lxxrt— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) January 30, 2022
Play #12: James Houston IV comes off the edge but manages to stop himself before he overruns the play, goes back and makes the tackle for a mere one yard gain. pic.twitter.com/F2UD2hpFYf— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) January 30, 2022
JAMES HOUSTON IV PICK SIX IN THE SWAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME!!!— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) December 4, 2021
How about those reflexes from the former #Gators LB? He gets his hands out there, deflects the ball, picks it and takes it home! And Jackson State strengthens its grip on this SWAC Title Game! @Jthouston_4 #BleedTheeBlue pic.twitter.com/pv8aaRFDNX