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Patriots 2011 Draft Report: Justin Houston, Georgia

Justin Houston would fill a need for New England. (Photo on leatherhelmetblog.com)

Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia

Height: 6-2
Weight: 270
40: 4.68
2010 stats: 67 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks

Overview:

To many, the 2010 Georgia Bulldog’s season will be remembered by the A.J. Green incident that led him to a four-game suspension. During those four games, Georgia lost to South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State, and before you knew it, the season was over. At the end of the season, questions surfaced on whether or not coach Mark Richt would keep his job. It was a season that many in Athens want to forget.

However, there was one bright side on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs. Justin Houston. Houston was rewarded the defensive MVP and was named to the All-SEC team by the Associated Press. There wasn’t another player in the SEC that had more of a motor than Houston last season. The Statesboro, Ga. native made a name for himself and thanks to a great showing in Indianapolis, should go within the top 40 picks in the NFL draft.

Houston’s speed off the corner makes him ripe for the picking as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Although the majority of Houston’s experience comes with his hand in the ground in a 4-3 defense, he should have no problem converting in the NFL. Along with his speed, Houston has a polished technique and uses his hands to his advantage against opposing tackles. Houston’s coverage skills do have a ways to go, but it’s unlikely that teams will ask him to ever cover anyone in man-to-man coverage.

To the blind eye, Houston looks like the prototypical “workout warrior,” but Houston’s production at Georgia will squash the nit-picking complaint that he shows up better in shorts and a t-shirt than in shoulder pads and a helmet. Houston has experience against some of the top tackles in college football. Last season against South Carolina, Houston had a 10 tackles and a career high three sacks.

Houston is one of those prospects that the consensus on him will vary from team to team. Houston could go as high as top 20, or as low as 45.

Patriots Outlook:

If you haven’t noticed, in our draft profiles we have looked at a lot of prospects that could help the Patriots apply pressure to the quarterback. Like we previously mentioned, Jermaine Cunningham looks like he’ll be a great asset for years to come, but on the other side there is a noticeable need. Tully Banta-Cain, who will be 31 years old next season, saw his sack numbers cut into half from 2009 to 2010. Banta-Cain was a feel good story in 2009, joining the Patriots after being released by the San Francisco 49ers. But, the diminishing production of Banta-Cain won’t hold up in New England.

Meanwhile Rob Ninkovich, who looks like the modern day Mike Vrabel, minus the casino theft, looks poised to start opposite Cunningham next season. Ninkovich had a breakout season in 2010, and was remembered for his countless big plays — whether it was a sack, forced fumble or interception. But, even with the emergence of Ninkovich, the Patriots lack depth at outside linebacker.

Houston would be able to rotate amongst the other linebackers giving the defense fresh legs and a high energy motor. If interested, the Patriots should be able to nab Houston with one of their first round picks, or even No. 33.

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About Matthew Marcantonio - @M_Marcantonio

Matthew Marcantonio is the Patriots and college football editor at Sports of Boston. Marcantonio has contributed for two newspapers; the Sentinel & Enterprise (Leominster, Mass) and The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La) and held internships with The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated.

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