INDIANAPOLIS — When you think of a football player being referred to as a "dangerous weapon," it probably conjures up thoughts of a gamebreaking running back or wide receiver, or maybe a mismatch tight end.
Not often does it refer to a 30-year-old edge defender, but in the case of new Indianapolis Colts defensive end Justin Houston, he is considered just that; a dangerous weapon.
Recently, Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report listed his pick for every NFL team's "most dangerous new weapon."
"We'll highlight the most dangerous asset to join each team in the offseason," Moton said, leading into the criteria for the list. "The selections feature players who have versatile skill sets or display top-notch abilities in a specific area of their games."
For the Colts, you could easily consider someone like 2019 free-agent signee, wide receiver Devin Funchess, or fellow receiver and rookie second-round pick Parris Campbell. For Mouton, he says it's Houston, who the Colts signed this offseason after spending the first eight years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Through eight seasons, Houston has 32 pass breakups and four interceptions in addition to 78.5 sacks," Moton said. "Because the Colts have young talent in the front seven with second-year linebacker Kemoko Turay and rookie second-rounder Ben Banogu, Houston may see a reduced role. However, the battle-tested veteran can still finish with big sack numbers."
If the Colts are getting a version of Houston even remotely close to the one that became an All-Pro for the Chiefs — and they believe they are — then the Colts may have pulled off one of the steals of the offseason.
In eight NFL seasons, Houston has earned outstanding marks from Pro Football Focus. In three seasons, he has earned an "elite" grade. He's had three seasons with a "high quality" grade, which is the step before elite, one season with an "above average" grade, and one with an "average" grade, which just so happened to be his rookie season in 2011.
He earned a grade of 85.7 grade last season, which was on the border of elite and high quality.
Moton has it right that the Colts will spread reps around on the defensive line — several talented players operating on a high motor is better than one elite player constantly on the field and getting gassed by the end of the game. Sending waves of fresh defenders throughout the contest is a staple of the Colts' defense.
"Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus will likely have a rotation at defensive end and coming off the edge in nickel alignments, which keeps Houston's legs fresh," Moton continued. "He's a double-digit sack candidate for the next couple of years."
While it's reasonable to consider a player who's not playing 80 percent of defensive snaps may not put up big numbers, Houston has proven to be the exception as recently as last season.
"In 2018 with the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston recorded nine sacks playing 61.0 percent of the defensive snaps," Moton pointed out. "He doesn't need an every-down role to impact the game in a significant way. His tendency to tip passes and attack the football should allow him to see the field just as much in Indianapolis."
At 30 years old, there were some concerns from outsiders regarding Houston's injury history over the last few years, but when you break it down it's actually not as bad as it seems.
He missed five games in 2013 due to a dislocated elbow, but rebounded to play all 16 games the following season on his way to nearly reaching Michael Strahan's NFL single-season sack record of 22.5 (Houston had 22.0).
Houston has been without significant injury since 2016, while he continued to recover from a knee injury that ended his 2015 season prematurely.
Since then, he has not missed much time. Houston played in 16-of-17 games in 2017 (playoffs included), and missed four games in the middle of 2018 with a hamstring injury. He returned strong enough to make the Colts take notice, sacking quarterback Andrew Luck twice in the Divisional Round of the playoffs this January.
"I have plenty in the tank," Houston told reporters after arriving in Indianapolis. "I think some people don't believe that so it's more so what I am about to show the world than myself because I know what I am capable of."
As far as age goes, pass rushers can age like a fine wine. In fact, since 2017, there have been 10 edge defenders who were at least 30 and had a season in which they eclipsed the 10.0-sack mark.
Remember when Colts sack king Robert Mathis led the NFL and set the Colts' new single-season franchise record with 19.5 sacks in 2013? He was 32 at the time.
Although the Colts are currently only in OTAs, Houston has looked like a beast out on the field, showing out each time in the portions of practice that are open to the media. He's looked ferocious at times coming off the edge, harassing the quarterback and making it difficult to get the ball out. Most importantly, he's also got the attention of his new head coach, Frank Reich.
"I felt Justin Houston's presence out there today," Reich told reporters after Wednesday's open session. "I mean, we got in the red zone and he got to the quarterback a couple times, so I think that's going to help."
"I have seen all those things. He has just a presence. Justin Houston, he's done a lot in this league. You can feel his leadership," Reich said during the first week of OTAs. "Justin is a really savvy, smart player. You can tell his veteran leadership out there that this guy is a really smart football player. Then physically, just big and strong. I mean he is a big strong dude. So, I really feel like he is stepping in and not only going to provide us with production up front, but really a leadership that I guess I knew about, but probably not to the extent. I really sense a strong leadership from him even early on."
Houston may be one of the elder statesmen in a defensive room full of young guns, but he liked what he saw as an opponent of theirs in January, and he's enjoyed getting the chance to see how the team operates now up close.
"I think they can help me as much as I can help them," he said. "I love the way they play – their attitude and their effort they play with on the field. I think we can help each other. I just want to be another pass rusher within the scheme that can help cause some more headaches.
"I feel like they've got the pieces they need and feel like I can help them continue to go in the right direction," Houston continued. "They were young and they still played great last year. They had a great team, they continued to build and I just wanted to be a part of that."