The Houston Texans defensive line group as a whole was not good in 2021. Outside of defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who led the team with eight sacks in only 12 games, there wasn’t another player on the roster who came close to that production. Defensive end Jacob Martin was second on the team in sacks with only four. Martin now plays for the New York Jets.
General Manager Nick Caserio and Head Coach Lovie Smith knew there needed to be a change. In order for Smith’s defense to work, there needs to be consistent pressure on the quarterback and that did not happen nearly enough last season.
In the earlier part of the offseason, the Texans signed outside linebacker Ogbo Okoronkwo to a one-year deal. Okoronkwo was a force in college, accumulating 20 sacks and 33 tackles for loss at Oklahoma. Okoronkwo is now entering his fourth year in the league and didn’t have many opportunities on a stacked Los Angeles Rams defensive line but has the opportunity to potentially become an impact player in Houston. Okoronkwo has 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 5 tackles for loss throughout his career in the league.
A majority of fans and members of the media assumed the Texans would draft a dominant pass rusher early in the 2022 draft but that was not the case. Instead, Caserio signed a few pass rushers post draft. The Texans signed Rasheem Green, who was with the Seattle Seahawks last season and posted career high numbers. Green had 6.5 sacks while also playing limited snaps. Green has 13.5 career sacks and is only 25 years old. This signing has gone a bit under the radar amongst Texans fans and he could have a big role as the season approaches.
The Texans also signed defensive ends Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes, who are both on the older side but can still play at a high level. Addison has 67 career sacks and seven of them coming last season with the Buffalo Bills. Jerry Hughes, who was also with the Bills last season has 58 career sacks and two of them coming last season. Adding those two players could end up paying huge dividends for Houston due to their immense success and experience in the league.
A player that could find success in 2022 is defensive end Jordan Jenkins, who was signed by Houston last offseason. Jenkins has been productive in the league, accumulating seven sacks in 2018 and eight sacks in 2019 with the New York Jets. Jenkins played in only 11 games in 2021 and had 2.5 sacks. Jenkins will look to bounce back in 2022 and prove he can still produce consistently.
The Houston Texans strongest point on the team may be their defensive tackle group. Maliek Collins bounced back in Houston throughout year one with the team after a rough stint with the Las Vegas Raiders. Collins played well enough that the Texans rewarded him with a two-year extension earlier this offseason. Lovie Smith thinks the world of Collins and had this to say about him recently:
Lovie Smith made it clear that retaining Maliek Collins, a disruptive three technique defensive tackle, is a big priority for the team 'He fits the profile. Maliek was at the tip of the iceberg'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 2, 2022
Roy Lopez was a surprise breakout player all throughout training camp and the 2021 season. Lopez certainly made rookie mistakes but that is expected. Lopez started almost every game for Houston as a rookie sixth-round draft pick. Lopez should continue to grow entering year two in Lovie Smith’s system.
The Texans drafted Ross Blacklock in round two of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he has not been the player that the Texans had hoped for. Blacklock has had limited opportunities since arriving to Houston but has still flashed his playmaking ability at times. Blacklock has a lot to prove and is entering year three with the Texans. Blacklock is still only 24 years old and has plenty of room to grow. If there is anyone that can transform a player and get the most out of them, it is Lovie Smith.
The Texans recently added another playmaker through the draft in Thomas Booker. Booker was a three-year starter and team captain at Stanford and should get opportunities as the season progresses.
The Texans need more production out of their defensive line group. Both rushing the passer and stopping the run were significant problems in 2021 and someone outside of Greenard needs to step up big time. The Texans have plenty of depth at the position this year and will look to bounce back after a poor 2021 season.