One of the biggest needs for the Houston Texans is at interior defensive line (IDL). Houston plays a multiple front, meaning they switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 throughout games. This places an added emphasis in finding versatile IDL who can play those different positions along the interior.
A common theme of Houston’s IDL problems is that they don’t bring much in terms of rushing the quarterback. D.J. Reader was Houston’s best guy at doing that last year, but even he wasn’t consistent in getting to the QB. When Reader had it going, the pass rush worked together as a unit much better. Reader’s ability to bull rush and collapse the pocket helped Whitney Mercilus the most—in fact, it created most of Mercilus’ sacks. It’s no coincidence that when Reader’s pass rush fell off, so did Mercilus’. The Texans desperately need an IDL who can bring that ability back and collapse the pocket. It would help everyone on the defense.
Luckily, the 2020 NFL Draft has a strong IDL class, with a good crop of guys who are able to rush the quarterback from the interior. One of my favorite options for the Texans is Jordan Elliott, 6’4” and 302 lbs. from Missouri. Elliott may be available when the Texans pick in the third round at 90th overall.
The most important skill Elliott can bring to Houston is his pass rush from the interior. He’s still a bit raw, but he showed promising flashes of advanced pass rush moves at Missouri. On this play, Elliott (#1) is lined up directly over the left guard (#71) as a 2-tech (head up with the guard). Elliott initially punches his hands into the chest of the left guard, and then he quickly takes his right hand and violently chops down on the guard’s right hand. He takes a step in that direction and gets the left guard leaning that way, overcompensating for being beat by the first chop move. Then Elliott explodes in the opposite direction and swims over the left guard using his left arm. The left guard is left lunging and missing his block, while his poor quarterback gets thrown into the ground.
That swim move is one of Elliott’s favorite moves to use to beat an offensive lineman. Here Elliott is again lined up as a 2-tech, with his head straight over the left guard (#76). Elliott uses his left hand to swipe at the right side of the left guard, then he brings his right arm over the guard’s lunging punch. The left guard is left leaning and off balanced, unable to stop Elliott from running right past him and getting a hit on the quarterback, likely causing the errant throw. Elliott gets to the quarterback in approximately two seconds, which is just way too quick for the quarterback to make a good decision and an accurate throw.
Here’s more of that beautiful quick swim move for your enjoyment. Elliott is once again lined up over this poor left guard (#76) who was getting his lunch money taken all day long. Elliott quickly shoots his hands into the guard’s chest, and then instantly brings his right arm over the left guard, swimming through the block. He is met by the center, trying to help the beaten left guard and gets directed away from the quarterback. Elliott doesn’t stop there. He wants the sack. He showcases a great motor here (that is admittedly sometimes inconsistent), chasing the quarterback out of the pocket and following him to the sideline. Elliott can knife through ‘A’ gap and ‘B’ gap all day long like this and cause havoc.
What’s most promising about Elliott’s pass rush potential is that he showed the ability to string counter moves together. Here he’s lined up against the left guard (#72) and he starts off his rush with his patented swim move. You can see him swim over with his right arm and grab a hold of the guard’s right arm. Then he quickly spins in the opposite direction and does well to use his left arm to hold off the guard’s elbow/arm. Most players will spin, but they won’t do that final part of the move, where they hold off the offensive lineman’s arm. This doesn’t get Elliott a sack, hit, or pressure, but it shows how he is rushing with a Plan A and Plan B; that is very rare from a college player, let alone someone as raw as him.
Here’s more of that nice spin move. Elliott is lined up against the right guard (#56) and hits him with an instant spin move. It’s harder to see here, but once he is past the guard, you can see Elliott’s left hand holding off the lineman. This prevents the guard from chasing back and affecting his path to the quarterback. It’s the key part of finishing this spin move. This is just another instance where Elliott wins quickly off the snap. The quarterback got the ball out, but Elliott had a clear path to him.
On this play, Elliott is lined up as a 5-tech (outside shade of the tackle) in Missouri’s 3-4 defense up against the left tackle (#64). He shoots his right hand into the tackle’s chest and uses it to pull on his jersey. This gives him some momentum, and he is able to slingshot himself towards the quarterback while pulling the left tackle out of the play. No sack here again, but Elliott is constantly in the quarterback’s face.
Although Elliott has the finesse part of pass rushing down, he needs to show more power and tenacity. He opted for swim, spi, or pull moves often, but he rarely uses a nice bull rush (a common theme from this year’s IDL class). Elliott is crazy strong and usually good at getting his hands into the offensive lineman’s chest, so theoretically he should be a great bull rusher. He pulled it off occasionally. Moving forward, he needs to make it a dangerous consistent weapon for him.
On this play, he is lined up at 3-tech (outside shade of the guard), against the left guard, Trey Smith (#73), one of the best interior offensive lineman in the country. Smith is 6’6” and 325 lbs., so he’s got some size on Elliot, but it doesn’t matter. Elliott shows good burst off the line of scrimmage as he converts that speed to power and drives his hands into Smith’s chest. He pushes Smith a good four yards into the backfield, collapsing the pocket nicely. It doesn’t look like he did anything, simply because the quarterback ran ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. Elliott does well to collapse the pocket. He tries to use his swim move to get off the block, but runs into the wide receiver (#15).
This is another promising but raw bull rush as Elliott is lined up as a 3-tech against the left guard (#76). The left guard quick sets so Elliott doesn’t have time to build up his speed like he did on the previous play. Nonetheless, Elliott punches his hands into the guard’s chest and drives his feet, pushing the left guard backwards and slowly collapsing the pocket. The initial part of the bull rush is again good, but Elliott needs to learn to get off the block to be able to make a tackle and a direct impact. This aspect isn’t too concerning because, as we’ve seen, Elliott is very good at using his hands to disengage from blocks. He has all the tools. He just needs to show it more often on these bull rushes.
Elliott isn’t just a sub package rusher; he can definitely be played on run downs and make an impact there. He wins with pure strength, quickness, and good hand usage to get off blocks. His versatility is useful here as well since he can line up all over the defensive line and make plays. I wouldn’t want him to be a nose tackle; he struggles with double teams. But whenever he has a one-on-one block, Elliott makes plays.
First, let’s get the glaring and really only weakness of Elliott’s game against the run out the way—he struggles against double teams. On this play, Elliott is lined up as a 1-tech (outside shade of the center). The center and right guard take him for a trip. You can see Elliott try and punch each offensive lineman with one hand, but this only hurts him and exposes his chest. This allows the center to turn Elliott sideways. The center and right guard then work together to push Elliott out of the play entirely. Elliott can line up in these 1-tech or nose tackle positions if he isn’t dealing with a lot of double teams, but he’s better off playing the 3-tech, where he can destroy one-on-one blocks.
Here’s a perfect example of Elliott lining up as a nose tackle yet destroying the offensive lineman because it’s just a one-on-one block. He fires out of his stance and punches the center right in the chest. He extends his arms and drives his feet, pushing the center two yards into the backfield. This creates traffic for the RB to deal with. Elliott gets off the block and is able to help make the run stop. Textbook run defense.
On this nose tackle rep, Elliott is able to throw the center to the side and sheds the block, giving him a wide open lane for the tackle for loss. This further proves how great Elliott is against single blocks. Put him in position to never deal with double teams, and he’ll consistently create havoc in the run game.
The left tackle (#52) here tries to drive block Elliott, and while he gives up maybe a yard, Elliott pushes and fights back. He sheds the block and makes the tackle for no gain. Elliott’s pure strength, good hand placement, and ability to get off blocks makes these one v. one run stuffs easy.
Elliott’s versatility is key, especially for a team like the Texans who love to use their IDL as 4-3 defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends.In this clip, Elliott is playing as a 5-tech (outside shade of the tackle) 3-4 defensive end. He’s lined up over the right tackle (#79). He stacks the block, finds the ball, gets off the block, and makes yet another run stuff. More textbook play. Elliott shows good potential two-gapping like this—a necessary quality for a 3-4 DE.
Elliott often wins with strength and good hands in the run game, but we can’t underestimate his quickness either. He’s lined up as a 1-tech here. He bursts off the line of scrimmage and uses quickness to knife through the ‘A’ gap to blow up this play. He avoids the left guard’s block and punches the pulling right tackle (#67), pushing him deeper into the backfield. This forces the running back to take a wider angle on his run and Elliott chases him down. While he is unsuccessful in making the tackle, Elliott has forced the running backs so wide that the rest of the defense has time to recover and make the play. Have no doubt—this was all due to Elliott’s greatness.
So Jordan Elliott seems like a beast, right? Right. However, Houston shouldn’t take him with Pick #40. He’s being mocked in the late second or mid-third round. I think Elliott is a slam dunk selection if he’s available when Houston picks at 90.
The reason for this is twofold. Elliott is still fairly raw, and Houston needs an instant contributor at #40. Additionally, Elliott has an inconsistent motor and effort, like many IDL in this class. While there are plenty of splash plays, there are also plays like theone below, where he looks disinterested and doesn’t even try to get off the block.
Jordan Elliott is brimming with potential. He’s strong and quick. Stout but long. Nuanced but raw. He’s the perfect mold of where the IDL position is going in the NFL. He can stuff the run and also pressure the quarterback—a requirement for every NFL defense and something Houston doesn’t have. He could play 3-tech in a 4-3 and 5-tech in a 3-4. Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver would love Elliott’s versatility and advanced hand usage. The IDL class this year is solid, but Elliott would be one of the best value picks for the Texans at #90.
Let’s hope he’s still there.