The Texans pass rush has sky-high potential when its trio of star pass rushers take the field together in 2018. Pro Football Focus released its ranking for best pass-rush defenses heading into 2018. PFF ranked the Texans No. 5 overall, behind the Eagles, Jaguars, Chargers and Rams.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
Edge Defender: Jadeveon Clowney, 88.3 overall grade
Defensive Interior: D.J. Reader, 84.2
Defensive Interior: J.J. Watt, 89.3
Edge Defender: Whitney Mercilus, 75.1
Key Rotational Player: Joel Heath, 44.6
“The Texans are one of the more interesting pass-rushing groups to look at, mainly because much of their potential success depends on players returning from injury and hitting the ground running.” Pro Football Focus
Devastated by injuries in 2017, the Texans defense fell from its No. 1 spot from the previous year with the loss of key starters. Watt and Mercilus suffered season-ending injuries on the same drive in last year's Week 5 game against Kansas City. Clowney, who started all 16 games in 2017, earned back-to-back Pro Bowl honors but has played just eight games with Watt in the last two season. Gordon McGuinness of PFF writes:
"While Aaron Donald rightly gets all the credit for his dominance right now, it's important to not forget just how dominant Watt was before having two seasons wrecked by injury. The man who produced 85 sacks, 151 hits and 197 hurries between 2011 and 2015 is a perfect candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 if he can stay healthy."
Mercilus, cleared for OTAs and minicamp after a torn pectoral ended his 2017 campaign, has been steadily climbing the record books with his sack totals. The seventh-year veteran linebacker currently ranks third in Texans history with 38.5 career sacks.
"Whitney, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the league," Watt said April 17. "I think Whitney is an incredible pass rusher. I think he's great in run defense, but I think he's one of the most underrated pass rushers in the league. I think that having him back out on the field at full strength and being able to be some things that he's capable of, really excited about that. He's a guy that I think can bring a ton of production and a ton of success to the squad."