Updated: May 18
The Lions really impressed on day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft in this guy's opinion, to the point I'm on record as saying it could be 'The Best Day 3 Draft in Lions History'.
After the acquisition of star Virginia Tech Tight End James Mitchell and the smash mouth Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez from Oklahoma State, the Lions went down a route that I had been speculating for some time on the College Football Podcast, they went and drafted from the highly talented pool of HBCU (Historically Black College & University) players. The HBCU scene was one that the Lions scouted very thoroughly on the path to the draft and and although my favourites such as Florida A&M Guard Keenan Forbes and Safety Marquese Bell were not the name called, the Lions nonetheless picked a player whom myself and Ryan were very familiar with on the CFB pod, and immediately caused a sense of intrigue amongst us
With the 217th pick in the 6th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected James Houston, the EDGE / OLB Hybrid from Jackson State.
Before we get into the player, let's just do away with concerns from those who may use his team as an argument against him. Yes, Jackson State play in the FCS which is the 2nd level of College Football so there may not always be the 'crème de la crème' of opposition to face off against, but Jackson State are a very serious organisation with high standards, not just anyone gets to go and play there. They are coached by none other than Deon 'Prime Time' Sanders, the legendary Cornerback who's skill in the game has made him a household name all over the country, and his love for the game and developing young talent is superseded only by his saltiness towards the Detroit Lions, but nonetheless there is no better coach for any aspiring player wanting to play Defence in the NFL. And that sort of gravitas attracts great players, the glaringly big example of this been just a few short months back when Jackson State shocked the College Football world by flipping the #1 prospect in the country (yes the ENTIRE COUNTRY) Travis Hunter away from the Florida State Seminoles at the last moment before the commitment deadline closed. He is by far the biggest commitment EVER captured by an FCS and HBCU team. And he is not alone as many other FBS players have been lured down a level to go play for Coach Sanders. Make no mistake, Houston has been playing in a very good system for the last 12 months and his progress shows.
Now the player...I think it's apt to say that James Houston has one of the truest nicknames a player has ever given themselves. He is 'The Problem', and it's fair to say his life has been defined by different iterations of that same word.
He has 'had problems'. Houston's College Career started badly, to put it lightly. He started out with the Florida Gators in the SEC, but he was forced to Redshirt his True Freshman season after him and 8 of his teammates were suspended for the season for involvement in a Credit Card Fraud Scheme. Fraud is a heinous crime that can ruin lives and something like this should not immediately be brushed away under the carpet, however their is an old adage that never stops ringing true.....young people make mistakes, and it's how they react and adapt to them which is the true show of their character, and I'll revisit this point later.
He has 'overcome problems'. Houston's issues didn't start with the infamous True Freshman season, they go back to his time in High School, where he was forced to miss his entire Senior Season due to injury, yet despite that the Gators still were more than willing to sign him up when he was eligible to move up to the College Game, showing that they believed in the quality of the player he could become. However the sailing only got rougher from there, after the suspension was up, Houston spent 3 seasons as a reserve Linebacker without ever getting a break in the Gators first team and he approached the 2021 season knowing that his path to the NFL was in serious jeopardy if things did not change. So the young man took a chance, and he bet on himself and the skillset that his team had not, and entered the transfer portal.
And even then fate continued to work against him. Interest was high for his services and he silently committed to the West Virginia Mountaineers, believing this may be the programme that got his NFL dreams back on track, but a last minute derailment saw the move collapse and left Houston wondering if that was that.
That's where Deion Sanders and Jackson State came along. They had been after his signature since day 1 he was in the portal and even after he chose West Virginia and had expressed no interest in going to play in the FCS, they still came calling when the move fell through. Houston found what he had been looking for, someone who believed in him and was willing to give him the chance he needed to show just what he could do.
It was not just the lure of Deion Sanders that eventually convinced Houston to go Jackson State though, Houston also wished to make a lasting impact on the HBCU football scene and change the perception of HBCU schools, something that has come to mean a lot to him. No players were taken in the 2021 draft from HCBU schools despite their been a lot of talented players just in need of an opportunity.
The move paid off instantly. In training Sanders saw something that no one else had to this point... the potential of Houston's pass rushing ability mixed with his athleticism, and so made the decision to switch him from a traditional Linebacker to an EDGE rushing hybrid ala Micah Parsons, whom Sanders had seen make a similar transition to great effect. The results were immediate, and Houston went on to almost build himself a house in the opposition backfield during the 2021 season such was his success. 70 Tackles, 24.5 Tackles For Loss totalling 143 yards lost, 16.5 Sacks for a further 117 yards lost, 7 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries, an Interception and 10 QB hits is insane production at any level and he had nearly every Offensive Lineman he faced on toast. Thus was born....
'The Problem', the version of James Houston we want to see succeed in Detroit
So what type of player is he? Versatile. As a Linebacker he is an aggressive downhill player who loves to get physical with his blocking and has an itchy trigger he releases when in pursuit of Running backs and Quarterbacks when blitzing through the middle, his instincts to know where runners are going are very good, and when he hits a runner he can change games, he creates large numbers of turnovers from the controlled ferocity of his hits and his desire to go for the ball, not just the man. As an EDGE rusher he uses his explosive athleticism and bend to overwhelm Tackles and contrary to the hard hitting nature of his Linebacking play he is surprisingly nimble on his feet when attempting to gain leverage on Pass protectors, he also possesses a really good swipe move to get his opponents unsettled off their stance to help leverage them out the way. But most importantly as a late round pick in the draft, he has a lot of Special Teams upside and has shown a particular talent in kick coverage which will endear him to the Lions whilst he is refined as a player. I'm not going to dive into game film to give examples as I will do his rookie tape review on our Youtube channel to explain in more detail.
And what sort of player are the Lions getting? Honestly, the Lions are getting a player who plays every single down like it could be his last. I've no doubt that after everything that has happened in his career up to last year, Houston realised he was in last chance territory, and he played like it was his last chance to prove himself and gave absolutely everything he had in racking up a huge season with Jackson State. And all that hard work came to fruition, he was 1 of 4 HBCU prospects who heard their name called in the main draft this season and hopefully that number continues to rise as their are many players deserving of an opportunity. This is a man who learned from his own personal mistakes and overcame the hard hand dealt to him as well by fate and made it to the biggest stage of them all, but can he stay there?
Which leads back to Houston's 'Last Chance' mentality, that's why I love his scheme fit with the Lions so much. The Lions are a land of opportunity, and much like Deion Sanders did when he was in the portal, they came knocking at his door when others did not. He took advantage of the opportunity Sanders gave him and the belief he had in him, and the Lions more than anyone will extend that same opportunity and have already shown belief in him by drafting him. Whether you are a 6th round pick or a 6th overall pick, everyone is given an equal opportunity to make it onto the final roster in the Motor City. But make no mistake, he will have to fight every single day like it is his last to make this team, at 6'1 and 225lbs he lacks the traditional build of an NFL EDGE rusher and he has refinement to learn in all facets of his game, like every rookie does, and he'll need to find his niche at the next level in regards to position and scheme and settle into it very quick to show the team he has something to offer long term, but it just so happens that he already possesses that last chance mentality and belief in his ability that he will need to succeed at the next level, and if your a betting man who is asking me who has watched him develop this year whether he's gonna make it or not, I'm hands down telling you now that he is more than capable of overcoming this last hurdle to making an NFL roster and developing into a player who will far exceed the expectation's of a 6th round pick, I fully believe that.
And if he carries on developing at the rate that he is and is able to fulfil his true potential, the other 31 teams in the NFL better watch out....
Cause they have a problem....
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