Joel Heath could come out in 2017 and take hold of the defensive end position opposite perennial All-Pro J. J. Watt.
The Houston Texans may very well have the best front seven in the NFL heading into 2017 despite having a weakness at defensive end across from J.J. Watt.
The Texans have not had a consistent end opposite Watt since Jared Crick signed with the Denver Broncos four seasons ago.
The Texans reluctantly used Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end at times last season but found him most effective as an outside linebacker in their scheme.
There is depth all throughout the Texans’ defense-except for the defensive line.
Behind and opposite Watt there are no real consistent play-makers. In fact, the Texans don’t need another play-maker on their defensive line. What they need is a space eating, gap controlling defensive end.
It is the last real weakness on that side of the ball for the Texans.
That weakness will be solved by using second-year undrafted free agent Joel Heath this season.
Heath has always been overlooked. He was signed by the Texans as an undrafted free agent last offseason after a five year college career at Michigan State. He was also just a three-star prospect out of high school.
The 6-foot-6, 300 pound lineman was signed onto the Texans’ squad due to his size and length. He has great length with his 34 1/2 inch arms.
NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein had this to say on his scouting report about Heath:
"Worker bee who keeps grinding until the whistle blows. Plays with the motor and strength to find out single blocks and maintains quality pad level against double teams. Fights through engagement and will give chase down the line after ball carrier. Recently married. Highly devout leader on defensive line. Tall defender with potential to play in odd and even fronts."
Last season, Heath went from an undrafted free agent to an eventual spot starter during a game in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. A game in which he recorded two sacks-one in the first quarter and one in the fourth quarter- making him the first Texan since Whitney Mercilus to record two sacks in one regular season game as a rookie.
Heath is used to playing second fiddle too.
The former Spartan had to move to defensive tackle during his five year collegiate career in order to get more playing time. The two defensive ends who drove Heath out of the end position? Second and third-round picks of the 2016 NFL draft, Malik Mcdowell and Shilique Calhoun.
Heath is a great 3-4 defensive end because of his unselfish playing style and massive size. He may not always win against the guy in front of him in the sense of beating his man, but he often “eats blocks”. Meaning while he may not beat his man, his man does not beat him either.
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The standstill Heath creates between himself and the blocker opens up lanes for the Texans’ linebackers to slash through to take down would-be runners.
Having a guy with gap control is paramount to the success of the Texans’ defense with play-makers like Watt and Clowney flying around.
Heath is not the biggest guy. He is not the best athlete. He is however, a hard working, relentless defensive end coming into his second year in the NFL with added experience in the defense and an opening available for someone to step up.
Expect Heath to step up and take the reigns of the defensive end spot opposite of Watt in 2017 for the Texans.