When I started doing position breakdowns back in late January/early February, the Texans had eight defensive linemen under contract. Fast forward nearly four months to the middle of May and the Texans have a whopping 17 defensive linemen under contract, including four newly signed veterans, four rookies and an International Pathway prospect. It's an intriguing mix to say the least. Let's take a look at how this group shapes up heading into OTAs in late May.
Players returning from 2021 squad (in order of snaps played in 2021)
Maliek Collins - 629 snaps (54.8% of total)
Collins played the most snaps of any Texans interior defender after signing a one-year deal heading into the 2021 season. After a difficult season in Las Vegas in 2020, Collins took his game up a level, or three, in Houston as he found his groove again during the 2021 season. His powerful hands and quick first step made life difficult for guards and centers on the Texans schedule. So, when the Texans re-signed Collins, I was ecstatic because of the energy and explosiveness he brings to the interior of this defensive line. He'll be the engine of the defense as Lovie Smith called him at the Combine.
Roy Lopez - 501 snaps (43.6% of total)
The last pick of a team's NFL Draft often won't even make it to the starting line of his rookie season. Even if said draft pick makes the 53-man roster, he usually isn't active nor does he play at all, if he makes the 46-man game day roster. Not this guy. Lopez Jr. wasn't having that at all in his rookie campaign. He made an impact nearly from day one, starting 15 of the teams 17 games, missing just one game due to COVID late in the season. He was stout at the point of attack. He was quick to the football in pursuit. He didn't rack up a ton of sacks, but he made his presence felt by pushing the pass pocket. It's odd to say that a sixth round defensive tackle that played just five games in his final season in college was one of the most valuable players on the roster, but that's the impact Lopez Jr. made in his first season as a Texan.
Ross Blacklock - 455 snaps (39.5% of total)
The 2022 season is a MASSIVE one for Blacklock, the team's first pick (2nd round) in the 2020 NFL Draft. He's shown some flashes that had me believing that he was ready to dominate games on a consistent basis. But, he wasn't able to do that throughout the season. As such, he MUST find the consistency that allows him to dominate games on a consistent basis. The elite traits are all there. He's built like a fast moving tank. He's strong as an ox. With 29 games under his belt heading into year three, it's a HUGELY important year for Blacklock. The Texans NEED him to flourish in 2022.
Jonathan Greenard - 413 snaps (36.0% of total)
Greenard is THE man on the Texans defensive line as we enter the offseason. He finished the season with 8.0 sacks, 33 tackles, 12 QB hits and nine TFL on just 413 snaps in 11 games (actual game total is 12, but he missed the majority of the Week 4 game against Buffalo with an injury). There is no bigger key for Greenard going forward than staying healthy. When he was on the field consistently, the numbers were more than evident. But, when injuries and COVID struck during the season, he was severely missed and his return wasn't smooth from those maladies as well. Greenard missed a two game stretch to start the season (ankle), then missed the Miami game in week 11 and then missed a two week stretch in December against the Jaguars and Chargers due to COVID. Staying healthy is PARAMOUNT as Greenard heads into his third season, a key one for a third rounder on his rookie contract.
Jordan Jenkins - 282 snaps (24.6% of total)
Jenkins signed a two year deal heading into the 2021 season, so he's on tap to be here in 2022 and that's a good thing, especially with the number of starts/snaps and experience out on the edge potentially leaving the building. Jenkins had one of the best games we saw in 2021 down in Miami, in which he racked up 1.5 sacks, two TFL and three QB hits on just 36 snaps. But, after just five snaps in the next game at Tennessee, Jenkins was injured and missed a key three game homestand in December. When healthy, he was a key component for this defense and I'd expect him to be in 2022 as well.
Derek Rivers - 143 snaps (12.5% of total)
Throughout his career, Rivers has flashed when he's been able to be on the field, but injuries slowed him significantly. Once he was able to get on the field in 2021, he was an asset to the defensive line out on the edge. He re-signed with the Texans for the 2022 season and I think his output could spike with even more snaps next season.
Michael Dwumfour - 67 snaps (5.8% of total) - Futures contract
In the week 16 win over the Chargers, Dwumfour was called up to the 46-man Game Day roster. He had never suited up in a NFL regular season game; yet, when he went on the field, he looked FAR from out of place. He had a two or three play sequence on a drive against the Chargers that was darn impressive. He then followed that up with showing even more flashes in the game at San Francisco. He's quick up the field and strong at the point of attack. There's a ton of potential for Dwumfour and it's great to see him back in 2022.
Demone Harris - 41 snaps (3.6% of total) - Futures contract
There isn't a ton of film on Harris as a Texan as he spent the majority of his time with the practice squad in 2021. But, he's got some upside out on the edge and he signed a futures/reserve contract for the 2022 season. As such, with a full offseason, training camp and preseason schedule, he'll have plenty of opportunity to prove his worth for 2022 (and, perhaps, beyond).
2022 Veteran Additions
Ogbo Okoronkwo - formerly of the Los Angeles Rams - 4.5 career sacks, 13 career QB hits
The former Alief Taylor star had the opportunity to return home to play for the Texans and jumped on it near the start of free agency back in March. In LA, he flashed his pass rushing acumen, but was often stuck behind some of the best to play the game. In Houston, though, he'll have an opportunity to show that he's more than a pass rushing threat.
Jerry Hughes - formerly of the Buffalo Bills - 58.0 career sacks, 7 QB hits in 2021
Similar to Okoronkwo, the Fort Bend ISD product returns home to Houston for the opportunity to bolster the edge pass rush presence for the Texans. Hughes doesn't have quite the juice that he did when he racked up double digit sacks in his first couple of seasons in Buffalo. But, he can still get to the QB and that's of great value in this league, in particular, right here in Houston.
Rasheem Green - formerly of the Seattle Seahawks - 6.5 sacks & 15 QB hits in 2021
At 25 years of age, Green is younger than some of the draft picks that heard their names called in the 2022 NFL Draft. But, oh man, is he an interesting chess piece in this Lovie Smith defense or what? Last year, it was DeMarcus Walker who played both inside and outside and had a modicum of success. This year, it's the younger, longer and bigger Green, who had the best year of his career for the Seahawks in 2021, that'll have a similar opportunity. Here's hoping that 2021 was just the start for the uber-talented former USC product.
Mario Addison - formerly of the Buffalo Bills - 7.0 sacks in 2021, 112 career QB hits
Now, Addison, like Hughes, hasn't seen 25 years old (like Rasheem Green) in quite some time, but that doesn't mean the pass rushing demon doesn't still have some major juice. Since 2016, he's racked up 9.5, 11.0, 9.0, 9.5, 5.0 and 7.0 sacks, which makes him the most productive pass rusher on this roster at the moment. Of course, the hope is that he still "has it" when the season starts, but those numbers are certainly not emblematic of a pass rusher losing his steam in 2022.
2022 Rookie Additions
Thomas Booker, Stanford - 5th round, #150 overall - 59 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks in 2021
Booker was an interior stalwart for the Cardinal in the PAC-12 but he did it with smarts, quick and powerful hands and quickness up the field. He tested extremely well at the Combine and that shows up on tape with the way he plays on the field. Active and explosive, Booker can play any interior spot and that scheme versatility is a definite asset. I'm really curious how the Texans use Booker on the defensive line in 2022 and beyond.
Damion Daniels, Nebraska - UDFA - 33 tackles, 2.0 TFL in 2021
Daniels played from guard to guard in multiple fronts at Nebraska, but he seemed to be more comfortable in a four man surface, like the one Lovie Smith employs here in Houston. Strong and stout, Daniels flashed quickness up the field as well in his career at Nebraska. He has powerful hands and plays with the requisite leverage in the middle of the formation to hold up against single and double team blocks.
Kurt Hinish, Notre Dame - UDFA - 28 tackles, 5.5 TFL & 2.0 sacks in 2021
Hinish always had my attention when watching Notre Dame games. First of all, he was a DL wearing #41, so that always caught my eyes. But, he made some eye popping plays in his Notre Dame career as well. Similarly to Booker, he's built like a guy who can play from guard to guard with some juice up the field but also hold his own against single blocks at the point of attack. Shoot, big fella did 31 reps of 225-lb on the bench during his Pro Day.
Troy Hairston, Central Michigan - UDFA - 17.0 TFL & 9.0 sacks in 2021
Hairston was a house of fire off the edge at Central Michigan, racking up the 2020 co-MAC Defensive Player of the Year award and 2x 1st Team All-MAC honors in 2020 and 2021. Now, he's not built like an edge player in the slightest (he's 5-11), so it'll be interesting how the Texans plan on utilizing the former Chippewa star. When he's rushing off the edge, he's a major issue for opposing offenses.
2022 International Addition
Adedayo Odeleye - formerly of the Berlin Thunder - 7.0 sacks in just eight games
Odeleye was in the NFL's International Pathway Program in 2021 but the NFL passed on him, mainly, because he had only played one year of American football in the UK. So, he moved to Germany and played for the Berlin Thunder of the European League of Football. Odeleye piled up seven sacks in only eight games and that earned him a spot on the All Europe team and an invitation to the European League of Football All-Star game. At 6-5, 265 lb., to say he's raw is an understatement but he's physically put together. If his improvement in just one season is any indication of what he could grow into, signing him is a risk worth taking.