Kansas City Chiefs: Will Justin Houston Become an Elite Pass-Rusher in 2012?

Bill RobbinsCorrespondent IMay 9, 2012

Chiefs' OLB Justin Houston is due for a breakout season after he emerged as a pass-rushing threat for this defense late in his rookie year.
Chiefs' OLB Justin Houston is due for a breakout season after he emerged as a pass-rushing threat for this defense late in his rookie year.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When the Chiefs took former Georgia OLB Justin Houston in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, it appeared that they might have had one of the biggest steals of the entire draft.

Once regarded as a first-round talent, Houston's draft stock had plummeted after he tested positive for marijuana at the combine earlier in the year.

Regardless of his off-the-field problems, KC knew that they were getting a special kind of player.

Houston was widely regarded as one of the best pass-rushers of his draft class and was a standout for Georgia's defense in his last two seasons at the school.

He racked up 18.5 sacks combined for his sophomore and junior years, including 11 QB take-downs in his junior campaign.

The 6'2", 270-pound linebacker became a terror for offenses in the SEC during his time with the Bulldogs.

After watching his film from college, some began to draw comparisons between him and former Chiefs great Derrick Thomas, due to his size and how fast he could explode off the edge from his outside linebacker position.

In his first full season in the NFL, Houston get off to a slow start.

He did not see the field very often towards the beginning of the season due to his struggles in pass coverage and inability to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

To make matters worse, the Chico, California native failed to register a sack until Week 13 of the regular season.

However, it was that first sack that got Houston going, as he later picked up two more in that same game and finished with 5.5 sacks for the campaign.

Not only did he start begin to excel as a pass-rusher, but he also was very stout in run defense in his last few games as a rookie.

After a lockout-shortened offseason in 2011, Chiefs fans and the rest of the league finally got to see Justin Houston in full effect near the end of last season.

Can he continue this into the '12 season and become an elite pass-rusher for this team?

Considering the high level of talent that he possesses, there is little reason to think that he can't become elite in the near future, which could be as early as this season.

Plus, having one of the best OLBs in teammate Tamba Hali to go along with an excellent defensive coach in Romeo Crennel should go a long way to helping Houston become an elite pass-rusher in this league.

This coming season will be a pivotal one for the second-year outside linebacker, as he could either make a big step towards becoming an elite player at his position or revert back to his rookie ways that he showed in the first half of last season.

Either way, it will be fun to watch how Houston's sophomore season in Kansas City will play out in 2012.