Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston emerged as a starter by the end of his rookie season in 2011, posting 5.5 sacks. He has been a full-time starter over the course of the past three seasons, playing in 43 games and posting 43 sacks in that span. He has posted three straight seasons of at least 10 sacks.
The four-year veteran earned his first All-Pro nomination in 2014 for his 22-sack season, which was just a half of a sack shy of the single-season NFL record, and he has a three-year consecutive streak of Pro Bowl nominations.
Why did he last all the way to the third round of the 2011 draft, then, with the 70th overall pick? Was he not seen as the first-round talent that he has demonstrated himself to be at the professional level?
As most know, of course, Houston was indeed regarded as a first-round prospect—before he failed a drug test for marijuana at the Combine. Mostly as a result of that red flag popping up, he dropped forty-plus spots in the draft, lasting seven spots longer than where the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Marcus Gilbert near the end of the second round.
The Steelers, of course, were not hurting for pass rushers at the time, with two Pro Bowlers and a recent second-round draft pick from the previous draft, so I wouldn’t place too much blame on the Steelers passing on him.
But there were many teams in front of the Chiefs during the first two rounds who passed on the dynamic pass rusher, some doing their homework before passing on him and others just writing him off from the get go.
Certainly, success stories like Houston make you want to take a closer look at the flags that certain players bring with them entering the draft process to see just how manageable those might be. Not only has Houston flourished on the field, he has also maintained a relatively clean presence off the field.
This year, the Steelers have been seemingly doing their due diligence on two of the draft’s most talented players, both of whom carry their own flags. Like Houston, outside linebacker Randy Gregory failed a drug test at the combine, and many are predicting that his stock will drop as a result after previously being projected as an early first-round draft pick.
Cornerback Marcus Peters is regarded by more than a handful of analysts as the most talented at his position on the field, but his off-field issues resulting in his dismissal from his team have many teams concerned.
The Steelers have brought both of them in for pre-draft visits at the South Side facility, and as Kevin Colbert reaffirmed yesterday at his pre-draft press conference, the team rarely drafts a player that they haven’t had some type of direct contact with.
It’s possible that both players may be available to them in the first round when the 22nd overall pick is on the clock. Nobody likes being reminded of passing on a Justin Houston four years down the line. What will their due diligence have told them about these two players and whether or not their red flags are manageable, relative to their talent level?