The Houston Texans' defense may be in a rebuilding phase as they change schemes and look to move on from a disappointing 4-12 2020 season, but this doesn't mean they lack talent.
In fact, according to the folks at Pro Football Focus Houston has not one, but two of the NFL's top 32 linebackers.
He may have led the league in tackles last year, but Zach Cunningham ranks 13th overall with PFF saying the following about the middle linebacker:
Nobody made more defensive stops in 2020 than Zach Cunningham, who racked up four more than any other linebacker (70) and generated the best run-stop percentage (12.8%) in the league. While Cunningham is a tackling machine, he also whiffs on too many attempts. But despite his 45 misses over the past two seasons, he flies to the football and involves himself in a lot of plays.
Cunningham will be an exciting player to watch in Lovie Smith's 4-3 defense which should allow for plenty of big plays and freedom to move around from #41.
But Smith will also have another linebacker to work with whom PFF clearly rates highly. Kevin Pierre-Louis arrives in Houston fresh off of a career year in Washington, with PFF ranking him 27th in the NFL and saying the following:
We are still dealing with very small sample sizes for Kevin Pierre-Louis, and his signing in Houston this offseason was a curious move, but few players can match his PFF grading over the past two seasons. He finally earned an opportunity to play real snaps on defense, and only Lavonte David and Fred Warner earned better PFF coverage grades than him over that span.
Given that coverage is an area that his now teammate Cunningham has struggled with in the past, the presence of Pierre-Louis should help balance out the situation.
Sticking with the front seven … unfortunately for the Texans, there are no more players listed - Hardly surprising given that their defense allowed the third-most total yards of offense in the league, most yards per rushing attempt and least turnovers.
That being said, former Texans J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader and Benardrick McKinney all made it on the list at their respective positions.
Looking ahead, and at other current Texans that have a chance of breaking their way into the top 32 lists next season: defensive tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Shaq Lawson. Both should, in theory, be solid fits for this defensive scheme and have high ceilings.
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