NFL Draft

2020 UDFA Player Profiles: USC LB John Houston

USC linebacker John Houston

With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, we’re wrapping things up by offering player profiles on all the UDFAs signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The franchise’s history is strong with diamonds in the rough though in recent years. Hopefully the can find some who may have been overlooked in this year’s group.

#10 John Houston/ILB USC/6’3 220 lbs

The Good:

  • Good play recognition skills
  • Can sniff out play direction fairly quickly
  • Uses arms to shed blocks effectively
  • Very physical when engaging with blockers, will not get bullied off position
  • Able to meet running backs at the perimeter
  • Comfortable dropping into coverage
  • Team captain

The Bad:

  • Needs to do a better job processing through junk
  • Sluggish movement when moving laterally
  • Sometimes plays like he’s stuck in quicksand
  • Tight hips leads to missed tackles
  • Liable to over pursue
  • Doesn’t have natural foot quickness to close quickly


  • 2019: 104 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks,
  • Career: 271 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception
  • Team captain
  • Appeared in 47 games
  • Moved to MIKE linebacker in 2019
  • Has been a starter since 2017
  • Was a four star linebacker coming out of high school

Tape Breakdown:

Following the conclusion of this year’s NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers went out and signed USC linebacker John Houston as one of their many undrafted free agents. Houston is coming off a 2019 campaign that saw him switch to the MIKE linebacker and he recorded 104 tackles and 2.5 sacks.


Houston’s best trait that sticks out when watching his tape is his play recognition. The USC linebacker is able to sniff out a play’s direction very quickly and this helps put him in the right position to make plays on the ball carrier. He does a fine job identifying and reading his keys which he shows above. Watch as he swiftly keys in on the multiple pulling offensive lineman and is able to sniff this play out. He engages with an offensive lineman and is able to maintain leverage to ensure that this play goes nowhere.


The USC linebacker is also able to handle incoming blockers. He engages quickly and is able to disengage at a moment’s notice to in order to make a tackle. Houston has fast, active hands and will fight to the ball carrier.


While he may not be known for his speed, Houston does have enough speed to meet running backs to the perimeter. Do not bet on him being a true sideline to sideline linebacker but he shows that he can win some foot races to the perimeter.


Houston’s smarts shine again on the play above. While he may never win by pure athleticism, the USC linebacker can make up some of it due to his football IQ. Stick him in a shallow zone and he does a good job analyzing everything coming at him and picking up different receivers coming into his zone. Watch him pick up the Ohio State tight end as he crosses into his zone and he delivers a nice pass breakup.


The biggest problem with Houston’s game is that he is below average at working through junk. Being able to diagnose a play is only half of the job, the other half is actually getting to the ball carrier. Houston struggles in the second aspect as he frequently takes poor paths to the football. The best linebackers are able to navigate through traffic to get to where they need to be but this is one area that the USC linebacker continuously struggles in.


Another issue that plagues his tape is his short area quickness. Houston does not do a consistent job coming downhill quickly and looks as if he is playing in quicksand at certain moments. On the play above, he is sluggish and robotic in pursuing the ball carrier though he does end up making the tackle anyways.


Houston’s lateral ability is also lacking as he is very stiff when it comes to changing direction. Once again, he diagnoses this play well and is in proper position to make a tackle but he is too slow to regroup and shift laterally to make the tackle. This could also be labelled as a mental gaffe as Houston over pursues the play ever so slightly. Unfortunately for a player with limited lateral ability, the margin for error is extremely thin and the USC linebacker finds himself in big trouble. The result is disastrous as the Utah running back blows right by him into the end zone.


Here is that lack of lateral ability rearing its ugly head yet again. Houston is in excellent position on Joshua Kelly and is in position to make the tackle. He squares up on the running back but one little sidestep from Kelly is enough to completely take Houston out of the play. He is not able to recover and ends up whiffing completely on the tackle. Very tough for him to finish tackles due to his inability to square up on shifty targets.

Houston is pretty much what one would expect from an undrafted free agent. He is going to compete and comes equipped with some positives but ultimately there are a few weaknesses that severely work against him.

Games Watched: vs UCLA (2018), vs Utah, vs BYU

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