Houston Texans Draft: Interior d-line must be fixed in 2021

defensive lineman Jay Tufele (78) Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
defensive lineman Jay Tufele (78) Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports /
Jay Tufele, Houston Texans
defensive lineman Jay Tufele (78) Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Texans never really replaced D.J. Reader when he left the team last offseason and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Reader’s season was cut short due to an injury suffered while playing for the Bengals, the Texans’ interior defensive line wasn’t near as productive as it should have been.

Last year in the second round of the NFL Draft, the Houston Texans focused on the defensive tackle position and selected Ross Blacklock, but with no real offseason, Blacklock never really got off to a good start his rookie season.

Blacklock’s rookie season with the Houston Texans included 15 games played and one start. He had no sacks, one tackle for loss and two QB hits.

There was also Brandon Dunn, who was placed on the IR in late December, and he didn’t finish the season. Dunn in 2020 had 21 solo tackles with no sacks. His PFF grade was 35.5 (out of 100), so that wasn’t a great number. Dunn played in 13 games last season, and his stats also included three QB hits.

In 2019, Dunn had a PFF grade of 56.4, totaling 11 solo tackles, four QB hits and had one sack.

The issue for the Texans, besides not the greatest play from their defensive tackles, was the fact the entire defense underperformed, and up front on the interior line the rotation in the 3-4 defense needed more players who could be productive.

Houston Texans Draft: Take a look at Jay Tufele from USC

One player whom the Houston Texans could draft in the third round — as that is their earliest current selection — is defensive tackle Jay Tufele of USC. The defense tackle is the sixth ranked defensive tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft, as he stands at 6’3” and weighs 315 pounds, so he has the frame to plug up the defensive line to help out the rest of the defensive line and linebackers.

Tufele is also the 65th-ranked overall player in the 2021 NFL Draft, as he opted out and didn’t play this past season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his first season at USC back in 2018, Tufele totaled 23 tackles (14 solo) with three sacks. In 2019, the defensive lineman finished with 42 overall tackles (22 solo) with 4.5 sacks. That season, he also had one pass defensed.

Having a year off will be interesting to see how that will affect Tufele, but if he were to join the Houston Texans via the 2021 NFL Draft, his presence would make the defensive line of the team  instantly improved.

The Texans will pick 67th overall when they make their first pick, and in a three-round mock draft, Pro Football Network had Tufele as the 68th overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons.

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At some point, the Houston Texans need to fix their defensive line and improve their rotation, and if the interior line is better in 2021, that will make the rest of the defense better as well. It will be interesting to see what the Texans eventually do in the third round, and Tufele is a player to learn more about as the draft gets closer this offseason.