Free Agent Focus: Lamarr Houston
Houston doesn’t distinguish himself as the best available pass-rusher this offseason, but is probably the best fit for the multiple defense run by Mike Nolan here in Atlanta.
Houston spent the bulk of his first three seasons in Oakland playing left defensive end, where he excelled as a run defender. He finished in the top 10 according to Pro Football Focus’ run-stopping grades among 4-3 defensive ends in those years, with top 5 finishes in each of the past three seasons.
But Houston’s role in 2013 changed. In their attempts to feature him more as a pass-rusher, the Raiders switched Houston to the right side of the defense where he no longer rushed with his hand on the ground. Instead he spent the bulk of the season playing with his hand off the ground. Essentially Houston was transformed into the league’s largest rush linebacker.
He responded with a career-high six sacks and two forced fumbles and matched his career-high of 69 tackles from 2012. Clearly those numbers don’t indicate a world-class pass-rusher, but Houston is able to consistently get pressure despite not tallying a bunch of sacks. He has totaled 126 pressures (according to Pro Football Focus) combined over the past four years, compared to the 107 that current Falcon edge-rusher Osi Umenyiora has accumulated.
Listed at 300 pounds, it’s likely that Houston played at something closer to 280 this past season. He looked very similar in his build to Jonathan Babineaux back when he was listed at 285 in his younger days in Atlanta.
- Good first step that does a good job bull-rushing because he can convert speed to power.
- Adept at getting leverage against the run and making stops in pursuit.
- Athletic and rangy for a big man that is comfortable dropping into coverage and playing in space.
- Complementary rusher that is not a guy that you want anchoring a pass rush as the “top dog.”
- Doesn’t have the bulk or size to consistently hold up inside against bulkier guards.
- Lacks top-end burst and quickness to beat premier left tackles.
How He Fits in Atlanta…
One of the reasons to be high on Houston is because of his versatility and upside. He is a player that may not have peaked yet in the NFL due to the fact that he hasn’t firmly found a role. Houston played defensive tackle in college at Texas, but has been primarily used on the outside at defensive end and linebacker in the pros. For a creative defensive coordinator like Nolan, he could find ways to get more out of his ability than what the Raiders were able to achieve over the past four seasons.
Another reason to like Houston is because he is very reminiscent of Babineaux, a player that is considered undersized by some standards for a defensive tackle but makes up for it with excellent athleticism to do things that most defensive tackles are unable to do. Nolan often used Babineaux as a movable chess piece in 2012 with the majority of his snaps coming inside as a three-technique defensive tackle. But Babineaux also played on the edge at times playing a five-technique and seven-technique defensive end, and even lined up with his hand off the ground and being used somewhat like a linebacker. In 2012, the Falcons were successful in using Babineaux in their schemes to stall Jimmy Graham, and Houston can be used in that same manner.
Houston has shown the past few years that he’s capable of being used in the same manner. And given that the Falcons are also looking for an heir apparent for Babineaux, Houston is tailor-made for the Falcons.
Primarily Houston will be expected to play left defensive end in Atlanta’s base defense, essentially the exact same role that Peria Jerry played this past season. There, he will be used mostly as a five-technique end, similar to how he was used his first three years in Oakland. In passing situations however, Houston could move inside, especially if the Falcons manage to add another edge-rusher later this offseason. But as previously mentioned, he could be used all over the formation to help create confusion. If the Falcons are successful in bringing back Babineaux, having two defenders that can line up in a variety of ways just makes Nolan’s ability to draw up more exotic pressure schemes easier.
Houston won’t solve the Falcons pass rush woes, but he’s a good first step in the right direction. Frankly, he’s a better option than anybody currently on the team’s roster. If coupled with a top-tier pass-rusher from the draft, he can be used in his ideal role which is second-fiddle to a premier guy. Houston is the type of guy that can take advantage of lesser tackles one-on-one, particularly right tackles as he did against Tyson Clabo in the Falcons-Raiders matchup of 2012.
Houston may not be as sexy or put up the eye-popping sack totals of other available pass-rushers, but he would be a big upgrade for the Falcons defense because he is such a good fit.