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Position Breakdowns: Defensive Line


The Texans defensive line has gone through a significant transformation the past two years and DeMeco Ryans reminded everyone in his final press conference after the loss to Baltimore that there was more work to be done.

Well, in the first week of free agency, the Texans went to work in a major way. How did it change the makeup of the defensive line? Let's break it all down and look at what the Texans might have in store for the rest of the offseason at this key position group.

Returning players currently under contract or extended

DE Will Anderson Jr.. - 2024 1st round selection (#3 overall)

The Truth. Anderson Jr embraced the city of Houston from the second that the Texans made The Trade with the Arizona Cardinals. And, it's been such an amazing thing to see the city embrace Will too. He was such a joy to watch last year and he came out of the chute so fast and strong that all the noise about trading up to draft Will was a distant memory by year's end. He's going to be the tone setter, the physical force and the leader for this defense for years to come. Glad he's on our side, for sure.

2023 stats (15 games) - NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year - 7.0 sacks, 45 tackles, one blocked kick, 22 QB Hits, 10.0 TFL, one pass defensed

DE Dylan Horton- 2024 4th round selection

The news came down earlier on Monday that Horton had been diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins' Lymphoma in early December. The best news of all was Horton's announcement that he's in remission and getting healthy. Such GREAT news!! He was missed on the field last year and whenever his health allows, it'll be great to see him doing what he loves.

2023 stats (ten games) - 13 tackles, Two QB hits, 1.0 TFL, one fumble recovery

DE Myjai Sanders - 2023 waiver claim

When Horton stepped away from the team due to his health, the Texans made a few acquisitions at the defensive end position. One of those maneuvers was to claim Sanders after he'd been waived in Arizona. He gave the Texans some solid action out on the edge throughout the last half of the season. He's long and wiry and found his way to create pass rush pressure with his pass rushes.

2023 stats (Seven games) - Seven tackles, Two QB hits, 1.0 TFL

DT Khalil Davis - 2023 FA signing during Training Camp

I will tell the Khalil Davis story for as long as I have breath and a microphone (or computer). Davis won a USFL title on July 1st, 2023 as a member of the Birmingham Stallions and a little under a month later, he walked into Texans Training Camp for the first time. I went down to watch one-on-ones on his first day in pads and I walked back over and told Marc "hey, this guy Davis is killing dudes." He got better and better throughout the year, making plays all over the field with a smile the size of NRG Stadium on his face. The Texans extended his stay in Houston with a contract to return in 2024. What a story he was last year and he needs to be even better this year. My guess is that he'll be ready to do it.

2023 stats (15 games) - 2.0 sacks, 32 tackles, 6.0 TFL, six QB hits, one FF, two passes defensed

DT Kurt Hinish- undrafted rookie in 2022

Most games, Hinish and Davis would enter the lineup on the second or third series of the game and just create a ton of havoc. Hinish was stout against the run and more than effective rushing the QB. Every day since he arrived in 2022, he's improved significantly. He was an undrafted free agent and he plays like he's trying to keep his spot on the team on every play. He's tough and quick and the consummate teammate and role player on this team. I thought he played his best game at the end of the season against Baltimore in the Divisional round playoff game too. Much more to come for Hinish now in his third year.

2023 stats (17 games) - ½ sack, 22 tackles, 2.0 TFL, two QB hits, one pass defensed

DT McTelvin Agim - 2023 FA signing

Agim signed with the Texans in the final week of the season and signed a reserve/future contract to stay with the team into Training Camp 2024. I was a big fan of his at Arkansas and he has plenty of athleticism for a guy that was 309 at the Combine in 2020. He's been active for teams a few times throughout his young career, but just hasn't been able to lock up a roster spot for a significant stretch of time. Could Houston be that landing point?

2023 stats (one game with Indy) - two tackles, one QB hit

DE Ali Gaye- 2023 Undrafted Free agent signing

Gaye was an undrafted free agent, choosing to sign with the Texans. He wasn't active for a game in 2023, but he improved throughout the season, learned a ton throughout the season as well. I'm intrigued to see how much he's improved in July 2024 when Training Camp kicks off.

No Stats - Not active in his rookie season

Recently signed to a contract for 2024

DE Danielle Hunter - formerly of the Vikings - 2024 Free Agent signing

When Hunter signed with the Texans, I'll never forget hearing/seeing that news. As he returns back to Houston (he's from Katy), he's coming back with a new hefty contract in tow and pass rush moves in bunches. I don't know that I've seen a more unique and skilled pass rusher than Hunter in the entire NFL. He finished with a whopping 16.5 sacks in 2023 and led the league with 23 TFL. With Anderson and the next guy on our list, Hunter will have teams stressed about how to block all of them effectively, perhaps on the field all together.

2023 stats (17 games) - Pro Bowl season - 83 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 23 TFL (led the league), 22 QB hits, four FF, two passes defensed

DE Denico Autry - formerly of the Titans - 2024 FA signing

For years, YEARS, I've written about Autry as an opposing pass rusher that the Texans needed to find a way to block. Since 2018, Autry has played the Texans twice a year each year as a member of the Colts and then the Titans. That's 12 games, he's racked up 9.5 sacks. On an annual basis, that would be a 13.5 sack season. So, yeah, he's still got juice and had two sacks in the first matchup against the Texans in Tennessee in December. It's surreal to think he's finally on the good guys' side, but I'll take it!

2023 stats (17 games) - 50 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 12.0 TFL, 17 QB hits, two FF, four passes defensed

DE Marcus Haynes- formerly of the Broncos - 2024 reserve/futures signing

Haynes spent the 2023 season on the practice squad of the Denver Broncos. The Texans signed Haynes to a reserve/futures contract to add to the DE mix for the 2024 season.

No Stats - Not active in his rookie season

DT Foley Fatukasi - formerly of the Jaguars - 2024 FA signing

Nothing gets my heart pumping more than a 320 lb, quick and powerful interior player like Fatukasi. I never liked him playing for the Jaguars at all, so now he jumps over to the right side of the rivalry and that makes me happy. The Texans needed size, but athletic and powerful size is even better and Fatukasi gives this front exactly that.

2023 stats (16 games) - 24 tackles, 3.0 TFL, two QB hits, one pass defensed

DT Tim Settle - formerly of the Bills - 2024 FA signing

The former Virginia Tech interior defensive linemen was part of a STOUT rotation of interior defensive linemen in Buffalo. The 6-3, 313 lb. Settle started twice in 2023, finishing the season with 1.0 sack and 14 tackles. The Texans needed defensive line help after losing both Sheldon Rankins (signed with Cincinnati) and Maliek Collins (trade to San Francisco) so Settle settles in nicely in H-Town.

2023 stats (17 games) - 14 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 TFL, two QB hits

Key contributors in 2023, signed elsewhere or still on open market (as of 3/15/2024)

*Jonathan Greenard- 2023 stats (15 games) - 12.5 sacks, 52 tackles, 15 TFL, 22 QB hits, one FF - update: signed in Minnesota

Sheldon Rankins- 2023 stats (15 games) - 6.0 sacks, 37 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 10 QB hits, one FF, one FR, one TD - *update: signed in Cincinnati

Maliek Collins - 2023 stats (16 games) - 5.0 sacks, 41 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 18 QB hits, one pass defensed - update: traded to San Francisco

Jerry Hughes - 2023 stats (17 games) - 3.0 sacks, 32 tackles, 4.0 TFL, three QB hits, one FF

Derek Barnett- 2023 stats (six games with Houston) - 2.5 sacks (1.0 sack in the playoffs), 19 tackles, 11 QB hits, 1.0 TFL

JH Crush List - Rookies by Texans draft selection THAT MAKE SENSE

Even with all of the changes on the Texans' defensive front, I would not be surprised to see the Texans make a move to select another defensive lineman, be it inside or outside, in this draft. Now, I don't think this group is brimming with a plethora of options (like at WR or OT), but there are some strong options for the Texans, even after trading their first round pick.

2nd round - 42nd overall currently

DE/DT Darius Robinson, Missouri (6-5 ⅛, 285 lb)

DT T'Vondre Sweat, Texas (6-4 ½, 366 lb)

DT Braden Fiske, Florida State (6-4 ⅝, 292 lb)

2nd round - 59th overall currently

DT Kris Jenkins Jr, Michigan (6-2 ¾, 299 lb)

DT/DE Brandon Dorlus, Oregon (6-3, 283 lb)

DE Bralen Trice, Washington (6-3 ½, 245 lb)

DE Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan (6-3, 267 lb)

3rd round - 86th overall currently

DE Chris Braswell, Alabama (6-3 ⅝, 251 lb)

DT Maason Smith, LSU (6-5 ⅛, 306 lb)

DT Leonard Taylor III, Miami, FL (6-3 ½, 303 lb)

DT/DE Gabe Hall, Baylor (6-6, 291 lb)

4th round - 123rd and 127th overall currently

DT McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M (6-1 ½, 326 lb)

DT DeWayne Carter, Duke (6-2 ⅜, 302 lb)

DT Tyler Davis, Clemson (6-2, 301 lb)

DT Fabien Lovett, Florida State (6-3 ⅞, 314 lb)

DT Jordan Jefferson, LSU (6-2 ¾, 313 lb)

DT/DE Justin Eboigbe, Alabama (6-2 ¾, 313 lb)

5th round - No picks currently

DE Brennan Jackson, Washington State (6-3 ⅞, 254 lb)

6th round - 188th overall

OLB Jalyx Hunt, Houston Christian (6-3 ¾, 252 lb)

7th round - 238th 247th & 252nd overall

DE Cedric Johnson, Ole Miss (6-3, 260 lb)

DT Jaylon Hutchings, Texas Tech (6-0, 310 lb)

DT Justin Rogers, Auburn (6-2 ½, 330 lb)