This is the second part of our SOTT Mid Season Report card and we will run through every position group for the Houston Texans. We focus on the defensive line in this post and give our thoughts on the position group.
The Defensive Line Grades
Shaun Cody: We have been big fans of Cody since his position change in 2011 when he became the starting nose tackle for the defense. Cody has proved to be stout in run defense and not much more than that. The biggest concern in our mind is how much his snap count has gone down since 2011, where now it is a true rotation at nose tackle. Dealing with a back issue during camp slowed him and now he still looks like he might be dealing with some ill effects of the injury. He still serves as an important purpose this season but it might be coming to the end of the road of Cody being a full time starter for the Texans.
Earl Mitchell: Mitchell is one of the most improved players for the Texans this season as he has been a new player in 2012. The weight he added for this season has proved to be good for him as a nose tackle, and he has provided versatility on the defensive line also. Mitchell has played nose tackle, defensive end (5 technique) and been in on passing downs when the Texans go to their dime package. His technique has been his biggest improvement as well as his ability to use his hands to control opposing centers. Mitchell is playing himself into a long career for the Texans if he can keep this up.
J.J. Watt: Really there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he has been the best player for the Texans in 2012 to this point. He is the only player to grade out at A+ and he deserves it. He does it all - sacks, tackles for loss, knocking down passes, but most importantly giving the Texans a go to player when they need a game changing play. His evolution as a player started towards the end of the 2011 season and only in his second year he is pushing some rare air when it comes to a defensive football player. Watt has the chance to set some records and “maybe” become the favorite to come home with the NFL’s defensive player of the year award. Nobody saw this type of player in Watt when he was drafted 11th overall in the 2011 NFL draft. If they told you they did, they are not telling the truth. Watt is a special player and expect him to be the next face of the franchise.
Antonio Smith: We want to be positive about what Antonio Smith has meant to the defensive line and the defense, but he has been a slight disappointment for us. Despite having 4 sacks on the season, Smith has been a target of opposing offenses’ running game. More times than not, good runs occur when they run at Smith and make him play run defense. He plays high and has been letting offensive lineman push him around, and that is not the Smith we saw in 2011. He was such a force in the pass rush game and while he is doing a good job of getting other players free runs to the quarterback, the reason for his low grade is his performance in the run game. With such little depth at defensive end, Smith is going to have to play better to prevent a real drop off.
Jared Crick: Health was his biggest knock after being drafted out of Nebraska this past off-season and during training camp he had a concussion issue. Used sparingly, his opportunity came on the heels of when top reserve Tim Jamison went down with an achilles injury. In a small sample size, Crick has been pretty good and had his best game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. He shows he can play both run and pass when needed, which makes him a viable option to depend on as the season moves on. He gets an incomplete for just a small amount of snaps, but he has been a nice plug and play player for the defense.
Tim Jamison: The achilles injury opened the door for Crick to step up but Jamison’s loss was not good for the rotation. His relentless pass rush ability is a nice change up for the defense. The good thing is the Texans have extended him to be in Houston for the upcoming seasons so we will see Jamison again and hopefully he is healthy for the 2013 season.
Be on the lookout for the other report cards coming out later this week.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter. He is the Editor of State of the Texans.