By TomE. Curran
Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran plans a series of looks at potential Patriots draftees. Today's player: Justin Houston.
Justin Houston, 6-3, 270OLB, Georgia
The Skinny: An intriguing player with an explosive first step, Houston looks straight out of 3-4 OLB central casting with long arms, excellent athletic ability and a ton of power. The consensus is he's best coming out of a three-point stance as opposed to being a stand-up edge rusher. Had 10 sacks last season for the Bulldogs in the always-competitive SEC.
Gotta Have Him: The Patriots need pass rush. Justin Houston provides pass rush. Let's be honest, Tully Banta-Cain's 2010 is probably more indicative of what he is all about than his 10-sack 2009 was. And Rob Ninkovich is not going to morph into Mike Vrabel. A bookend tandem of outside linebackers comprised of Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Houston could be a devastating pair.
Don't Need Him: He may not be versatile enough. According to Wes Bunting at the National Football Post, Houston just doesn't cut it when he's asked to stand up and rush the passer. "He's stiff and will struggle in space," predicted Bunting. "He's got that great first step but he's a bit of a one-trick pony. He's going to need a changeup move."
Forecast: The Patriots need to determine whether they want a 3-4 defensive end who is versatile enough to drop in coverage or whether they want a 3-4 linebacker who can play the run and set the edge on two downs and bring pressure on third. They drafted a player in the second round last year who fits that mold - Jermaine Cunningham. Bunting says Cunningham was a better overall prospect than Houston but not necessarily a better pass rusher. "(Houston) can take that first step off the edge and can make quarterbacks step into the pocket into the teeth of the defense. But as a 270-pound guy, I'm not sure he can consistently set the edge."
Patriots Draftability: 7