While the offensive line might be the most important position group on the field, the defensive line is literally the first line of opposition. Teams that have great defenders on the line of scrimmage often control the outcome of games by imposing their will on the opposing offense. Those who don’t follow this line of thought should look no further than Reggie White, Michael Strahan, Howie Long, Mean Joe Greene, and the father of the quarterback sack, Deacon Jones. Oh, and J.J. Watt of course.
With that, here are the five best defensive linemen in Texans’ franchise history.
#5 Shaun Cody
Drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2005, Shaun Cody first suited up for the Houston Texans in 2009 and competed in 59 games in battle red over the next four seasons. Contributing 99 total tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and countless running lane blockages, Cody was the poster child of what current head coach Bill O’Brien refers to as the “lunch pail mentality”. While he may never see the NFL Hall of Fame, Cody was a solid anchor for a Texans defense that was transitioning from one of the league’s worst to one of the best.
To speak on just how tough this guy is, in a mid-season game in 2009 against the Buffalo Bills, Cody took a hit that resulted in broken ribs and a punctured lung. He went to the sideline, got checked out, and went back into the game to finish what he started.
#4 Antonio Smith
For those not old enough tor remember, Smith was “The Ninja Assassin”, a player made up of equal parts skill and crazy, which is what you want in a Pro Bowl defender. Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, Smith joined the Texans during free agency in 2009 to replace current defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver. Smith played 92 games for Houston, including his final season, when he returned to the Texans after two years in the AFC West where he suited up for the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos. By the time it was all said and done, Smith contributed 161 total tackles, 28 tackles for loss, and 27.5 sacks to the Houston Texans.
While anyone who remembers Smith will picture his swashbuckling sack celebration, many will also remember his Week One suspension in 2013 when he tried to beat Richie Incognito with his helmet in a preseason game. The current Texans could sure use another Ninja Assassin on the defensive line.
#3 Mario Williams
Odds are there will be some contention as to which spot the No. 2 and No. 3 players land on this list. For some, North Carolina State product Mario Williams would be the best defender in Texans history if it weren’t for the guy who has the undisputed hold on the top spot.
While there was a huge draft day hoopla over the Texans not taking Reggie Bush or Vince Young with the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, within a few years time, it was plain for all to see the Texans got the better end of the deal. Williams would go on to play in 82 games, record 53 sacks, 241 total tackles, 11 forced fumbles, 93 quarterback hits, and 64 tackles for loss over the next six seasons before leaving in free agency to sign a blockbuster deal with the Buffalo Bills. That was certainly a dark day in franchise history, but it opened the door for the arrival of our second best defensive lineman in Texans history.
Unfortunately, this also foreshadowed one of the greatest tragedies of Texans fandom. Williams and J.J. Watt never had a full season together.
#2 Jadeveon Clowney
Apparently, if the Houston Texans have the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, they have to use it on a phenom defender from the Carolinas. Clowney electrified the sports world with his now infamous hit during the Outback Bowl on Michigan Wolverine running back Vincent Smith.
Not to be outdone by his collegiate exploits, Clowney replicated the play, twice in a row no less, during a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons; he blew up opposing running back Antone Smith and then blasted quarterback Matt Ryan on the very next play.
Unfortunately, injuries hindered Clowney’s time in battle red, forcing him to miss 18 games in his five year career in Houston. During that span, he contributed 205 total tackles, 64 tackles for loss, 29 sacks, and 67 quarterback hits. While these numbers aren’t as impressive as Mario Williams’ Texans stats, the real magic of Clowney came between the digits, where he wrecked opposing run games and forced offensive coordinators to alter their game plan on the fly to try and figure out how to run away from him.
In the end, just like Williams, Clowney’s career in Houston came to a sad end. Maybe, just maybe, like the Ninja Assassin, Clowney will come home for one more campaign before it’s all over.
#1 J.J. Watt
As if there was any doubt who would top this list. In fact, there’s little doubt Watt is the greatest Texan in history. Unlike Williams and Clowney, Watt had little fanfare when he was drafted out of Wisconsin, and the announcement of his pick was met with boos from many Houston fans. Yes, we’re NEVER going to let you live that down if you were one of them.
The only player in Texans history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, Watt has been more than a special player. He has transcended the game. While injuries have put a damper on the second half of his career, over the first five seasons, Watt was literally unstoppable. Starting every game, Watt tallied a jaw-dropping 74.5 sacks in that span. He added another 132 tackles for loss, 15 forced fumbles, and an interception that he returned 80 yards for a touchdown.
While he’s only had the opportunity to play in eight playoff games, Watt has managed to add another 6 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and another pick-six.
Watt’s list of awards includes aforementioned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, four AFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, five Pro Bowl selections, five first team All-Pro selections, and the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award for his incredible efforts to help the City of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Watt currently holds the franchise record for most sacks, (96...102 if you count the playoffs, and why wouldn’t you?), most career forced fumbles with 22, and most career fumbles recovered with 12.
It’s sad to think only Watt is still on the team and the player of his first five years is now only seen in spurts before injuries tend to derail things. But that means there’s an opportunity for a player like Charles Omenihu, Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard, or Carlos Watkins to step up and crack this list.
Before we close out, we want to give a shout out to Seth Payne, definitely a top ten all-time Texans defensive lineman and arguably the best radio personality the Texans have ever had. Not only could the Texans use another Ninja Assassin, they could use a prime Seth Payne right now, too.
What do you think? Give us your list and reasons why in the comments box.