If any Bulldog figured to benefit from the switch to the 3-4, it was Justin Houston. He has 8 1/2 sacks through eight games, not far off the 15-for-the-season pace forecast in this space back in August. (Not that I’m smart or anything. I just happen to know enough about the 3-4 to understand that “weakside linebacker” means “lots of sacks.”)
And now the famous Mel Kiper of ESPN has released his newest Big Board for the 2011 NFL draft, and the man who was just named the SEC’s defensive player of the week for his work against Kentucky has risen to No. 17. (Houston wasn’t rated in the previous installment.)
The good news is that another Georgia player is getting recognized for his great work. The bad news is that, as is also the case with wide receiver A.J. Green, who’s rated the No. 2 overall prospect by Kiper, the Georgia player is a junior. Meaning: There’s a good chance a year’s eligibility will be left on the figurative table, as was the case with Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno and Asher Allen and Rennie Curran and Reshad Jones.
But that’s the price of doing business in big-time college football: Good players get noticed, and not just seniors. And Houston is really, really good. Writes Kiper (all Mel links require registration): “To say the transition [to the 3-4] has been a smooth one is a major understatement … When looking at the current outside linebacker crop from the 2012 class, he clearly projects as the best 3-4 outside linebacker of the group.”
That’s correct. Kiper wrote “the 2012 class.” But the NFL allows juniors to enter the draft — ask Georgia Tech fans about that — and the rule of thumb is: If you’re projected anywhere close to Round 1, you leave. And No. 17 isn’t just anywhere close; it’s on the cusp of Round 1’s first half.
Ah, well. UGA fans can’t be shocked. When you hire an NFL coach to coordinate your defense and you tutor the converted linebacker by showing him film of the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, you shouldn’t really be surprised if the pros note the resemblance.