Houston Texans: Analyzing competitive outside linebacker group

Whitney Mercilus and Jacob Martin of Houston Texans (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Whitney Mercilus and Jacob Martin of Houston Texans (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans have a diverse group of outside linebackers for the upcoming 2020 regular season.

The Houston Texans have an interesting group of outside linebackers heading into next season after reinforcing the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. Houston hit a rough patch last season at outside linebacker after trading Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks. Whitney Mercilus took his place on the defense as one of the edge rushers alongside J.J. Watt after being utilized more as an off-ball linebacker in the previous seasons.

Texans were going into the draft with a clear need to improve that area of their defense, and they drafted Florida pass rusher Jon Greenard with the 90th pick in the third round of the 2020 draft. Greenard is an intriguing player for the Texans after transferring from Louisville to help Florida in the pass-rushing department.

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Greenard had a productive year with the Gators as he finished with his senior season with 52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and led the SEC with 9.5 sacks through 12 games.

That production he showed in the SEC put him on the Texans radar and has defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver already working of ways to implement him in the rotation.

"Jon Greenard was a guy that you could see doing a bunch of things for us, and I think position flexibility, particularly in the defense we’re trying to institute, adds a tremendous amount of value. He’s a guy that can rush off the edge, can rush inside, can drop into coverage, and when you can wear that many hates, that poses a lot of potential problems for an offense."

Jacob Martin and Duke Ejiofor are two other intriguing options behind Mercilus and Greenard that could form a big part of the Texans’ solution in pressuring the opposing quarterbacks.

Ejiofor showed a lot of promise in his rookie season and earned playing time on defense with his vast array of moves of getting to the quarterback. He finished as a rotational player on the defense with nine tackles, two pass deflections, two quarterback hits, and a sack.

An Achilles injury slowed his momentum heading into 2019, but he’s had an entire year to get his body to the place that he can ease his way back into the defense as possibly a rotational pass rusher.

Meanwhile, Martin displayed a lot of promise after he arrived to Houston right before the season started in the Clowney trade with the Seahawks. His snaps in the defense were limited as a rotational pass rusher, but he did the most of his playing time with 11 tackles, seven quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

Mercilus, Martin, Ejiofor, and Martin are the favorite four to make the roster as the outside linebackers, but other players could push the Texans in possibly bringing another pass rusher onto the 53 man roster.

Houston Texans: Outside linebackers on the outside looking in

Brennan Scarlett, Davin Bellamy, Jamir Jones, and Chris Landrum are the other four outside linebackers on the Texans’ extended roster before the start of the regular season.

In Weaver’s press conference with the Houston media, Scarlett was one of the names that weren’t brought up when he mentioned how he would utilize several pass rushers on the defense. Scarlett is one of the veteran players that has shown to merit a roster spot with his play on special teams in the past, but he showed limited productivity as a starter across from Mercilus in 2019.

Scarlett had 51 tackles, six quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in 10 of the 15 games he started last season. Martin had similar sack and quarterback hit numbers despite playing half of the snaps that Scarlett played in 2019.

Scarlett’s play on special teams is important when bringing up his value to the team, but he will have to prove he can be an asset to the defense also. He’s shown he has the versatility to play multiple positions on the defense, and it’d be interesting if the coaches decide to move him inside.

The Texans need depth at inside linebacker, and Scarlett showed some promise when the Texans moved him to play that position in the 2018 season due to injuries. Scarlett had an interception against Washington and looked comfortable enough at inside linebacker to consider a possible change.

Bellamy, Jones, and Landrum are the final three outside linebackers on the roster that have more of an opportunity to compete for a potential spot on the practice squad. Landrum was on Houston’s practice squad in 2018 but missed the 2019 season as he was placed on the injured reserve. Jones is entering his rookie season with the Texans after going undrafted from Notre Dame.

Bellamy is an intriguing name in Houston after he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Bellamy spent his rookie season with the Texans after earning a spot on the practice squad before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad in 2019.

Things came full circle as the Texans re-signed him to the practice squad towards the start of the playoffs and signed him to a future/reserve contract for this upcoming season.

dark. Next. 3 intriguing free agent options available

Texans have a competitive group of outside linebackers that are looking to find playing time for the upcoming season, and it will be interesting to see how they are utilized with Weaver taking over as the new defensive coordinator for Houston.