When a Houston opponent takes a look at the Texans' four starting linebackers, I can just imagine the chill going down his spine.
With Mario Williams and Connor Barwin at outside linebacker and DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing at inside linebacker, this corps looks like it could instantly be one of the NFL's best.
Williams was a sack machine for the Texans at his old defensive end spot, racking up 8.5 sacks in just 13 games in 2010. His career totals are an impressive 48 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in just 77 games.
At 6'6", 295 pounds, the NC State product will be a huge mismatch for offensive tackles when coming around the corner at full speed. Think DeMarcus Ware plus two inches and 30 pounds.
On the other side will be Barwin, who had a nice rookie season in which he recorded 3.5 sacks in a third-down role. After registering no stats in 2010 because of an injury, Barwin is one of my choices forbreakout players of 2011. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a force across from Williams.
The inside linebackers could collectively be even better than the outside linebackers. DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing are both incredibly gifted players who have made big impacts early and often in their few seasons with the Texans.
While Ryans was injured much of last year, he hadn't had fewer than 112 tackles in each of his first four seasons. Cushing was suspended for the first four games of 2010 but recorded 76 tackles in the last 12 games. He burst onto the scene with 134 tackles and five sacks as a rookie.
Both Ryans and Cushing are two of the NFL's top linebackers, and the combination of the two could be deadly for opposing running games.
Not only do the Texans have great starters at linebacker, but they also have good depth with players like Xavier Adibi, Zac Diles, Brooks Reed and Darryl Sharpton.
In short, look out for the Houston Texans linebacking corps in 2011.
How they'll rank: second-fifth