With training camp right around the corner, as well as the 2017 season, we will predict how the depth chart will look for each position. For this article, the focus is going to be on the Houston Texans linebackers.
Houston Texans Linebackers Depth Chart Projections
Strong Side Linebacker – Whitney Mercilus
If there’s one word to describe the front seven of Houston’s defense, it would be “versatile”. Whitney Mercilus entered the 2012 draft as a defensive end out of Illinois. The first thing Wade Phillips did after the Texans selected him in the first round was convert him to outside linebacker. It took some time for Mercilus to adjust to the new position but it seems to have been the right move.
In his five years with Houston, Mercilus has racked up 227 tackles, 37.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and four pass deflections. Mercilus is a true student of the game and has continuously worked on his pass rush moves which makes him a force coming off the edge. 2017 will be a big year for Mercilus. Expect him to finish with five or more sacks and he’s going to get his first interception as well.
Right Inside Linebacker – Brian Cushing
Before J.J. Watt, the face of the Houston Texans defense was Brian Cushing. The former first round pick came in to his rookie season and dominated. He played well enough to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Cushing finished 2009 with 133 tackles, four sacks, a safety, two forced fumbles, ten pass deflections, and four interceptions.
Cushing has since been moved from outside to inside linebacker. The move caused a decrease in sack totals but Cushing has still been a force at the inside linebacker position. In his eight seasons, he has 648 tackles, 12 sacks, a safety, and nine forced fumbles. Cushing also has 30 pass deflections, and eight interceptions with one touchdown.
After overcoming injuries, Cushing had a promising 2015 season. Unfortunately, an MCL injury kept Cushing very limited during the 2016 season. Coming into 2017, Cushing is healthy and poised for a comeback season.
Left Inside Linebacker – Benardrick McKinney
Benardrick McKinney looks like he is going to be great. 2016 was his first full 16 game season as a starter and he was nothing short of impressive. McKinney racked up 129 tackles, five sacks, two pass deflections, and a forced fumble. His sack total was the most by an inside linebacker last season.
McKinney is a force in the middle of the field. He seems to be involved on every play and showed the ability to take on an offensive lineman or beat them to the gap to make the play. Ironically, he reminds me of a young Brian Cushing. It’s going to be tough to repeat his 2016 season but expect great things should be expected from McKinney in 2017.
Weak Side Linebacker – Zach Cunningham
Most fans believe Zach Cunningham was drafted to be Brian Cushing’s future replacement. It shouldn’t be seen that way. Cunningham has the speed and explosiveness to play outside linebacker and could easily start at that position this season. He should be great on the weak side either rushing the quarterback or going man-to-man with a running back or tight end.
In my opinion, Dylan Cole should be the heir to Cushing and Cunningham should be a starter right now. He has the versatility that this defense thrives on and he clearly can make big plays for the Texans in 2017.