Connor Barwin was drafted as a bit of a project in the second round of the 2009 draft. That project has started to take form at just the right time for the Houston Texans. Barwin recorded 4.5 sacks in his rookie season, but didn't set the world on fire for anyone. In 2010, Barwin was expected to take the next step forward in his career but was injured in the first game of the season. Now he is healthy, and is proving that he was ready for a quantum leap in his game.
Barwin has managed to step his game up in a big way when the Texans needed him most. The gamble they took in the second round of the 2009 draft is paying off in spades with Mario Williams out. Without Mario, the Texans were looking for an ace pass-rusher who could strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses—with his four-sack game against the Jaguars, Barwin is officially that.
Barwin was recently named the AFC Defensive player of the month for his outstanding work in all three of the Texans games in November. He totaled 16 tackles and six-and-a-half sacks in just three games, including a sack in each of the games.
As impressive as those numbers are, they only tell a part of the story for Barwin. He has five passes defensed, which is amazing for a pass-rush specialist at outside linebacker. Barwin has made the switch from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for. The biggest question mark coming into the season was if he could cover, but he has not been blowing assignments and the five passes defensed speaks for his ball skills on their own.
However, the most important part of Barwin's game may be the fact that he has a non-stop motor and he is willing to work hard on every single play. Barwin will run sideline to sideline chasing down a back, and illustrates the hustle that this team is becoming known for throughout the league. This is not the most feared defense in the NFL right now, but it is on its way to becoming just that and Barwin is a huge part of the transformation.
The Houston Texans were one of the worst defenses in the NFL a year ago, but they can now hold their heads up proudly because they are one of the best, if not the best. What might be the most exciting thing about this team is how young they are. They are young all over and have room to improve, but don't tell Blaine Gabbert that—he probably wouldn't believe you.