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Hype Or Hope #1: Young Texans Edge Rushing Towards Success?

Is Texans rusher, Jonathan Greenard, destined for a jump to defensive stardom, or is he still too raw for a significant leap this year?

Welcome to Hype or Hope, a series where we take an in-depth look at off-season trends surrounding the Texans and the data to determine if there’s hope that the talk comes true or if it’s just hype that fans should ignore.

This week’s focus: Jonathan Greenard. The young player has been the focus of a lot of buzz this off-season, mostly due to his impressive start to the 2021 season. Greenard racked up eight sacks, two forced fumbles, 52 total tackles, 12 QB Hits, and nine TFLs in just 12 games. The impressive display netted JG a PFF grade of 89.2 on the season (a far cry from his current madden rating of 76).

So what’s the story? Is Greenard destined for a jump to defensive stardom, the next face of the franchise after the departure of JJ Watt? Or is he still too raw and developmental for such a significant leap this year? Before I give you my opinion (and don’t worry, I will), let’s get more granular and find out what the Gator product has actually done since being selected 90th overall.

A Surprising Change

When Greenard was originally drafted in the third round of 2020, the Texans envisioned themselves having acquired an eventual starter for their defensive line. In fact, the NFL analysts only had a 6.21 grade on the young prospect coming out of Florida. Some health concerns from a wrist injury coupled with strength and physicality issues landed him in the bottom of the 3rd round.

After he was drafted, Greenard was put at OLB in a 3-4 scheme for his first year on the Texans. He played all of the 2020 season there and went largely under the radar, notching only 1 sack and 19 total tackles across 265 defensive snaps played. However, when Lovie Smith came into the building, the stars aligned for the young defender. Swapping to a 4-3 defense, the 24-year-old defender found a place to thrive and made a splash the following season.

The Start of Something Good

We’ve already mentioned the accolades that Greenard earned in his 2021 campaign, but let’s take a moment to analyze the intangibles of those numbers. Fifty-two twisted, turned, and tore his way to an 8 sack season, on some rather notable quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz, and Mac Jones all found themselves on the turf right next to the young Houston defender.

His first sack of the season came in the very first game he played in week three against the Panthers as he took down ex-Jets quarterback, Sam Darnold. The Panthers ended the season with the 31st-ranked offensive line, so while not the most impressive opponent, sacks will always be considered a valuable commodity. Sack number came against the Patriots, led by first-round pick Mac Jones, and surrounded by the ninth-ranked offensive line of the season. Greenard showed no signs of slowing down entering his third game, taking down Carson Wentz twice behind an impressive Colts o-line that ranked 12th on the year.

Gaining the attention of offensive coordinators and teammates alike, Greenard sped into his 4th game of the season against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, adding two more sacks to his tally. While the 15th ranked o-line isn’t the most impressive opponent, Kyler Murray is one of the more notably mobile quarterbacks in the league, placing 4th overall for QB rushing yards with 423 on the season. Greenard tapered off on the back-stretch of the season, sacking Matthew Stafford and Zach Wilson once each behind the seventh and eleventh lines respectively.

Hype or Hope?

After analyzing the flow of Greenard’s season, what’s the final decision to be made on 52’s future? Averaging out the quality of opposing offensive lines, Greenard hung his hat on the season with eight sacks against an average of the 14th ranked offensive line. With such a promising start to the 2021 season, why didn’t we see the hot streak continue down the stretch? One word: injury. Greenard played through the back half of the season on a foot injury that he sustained in week 8 against the Rams.

Add to that fact that the next highest sack count on the team was from Kamu-Gruiger Hill (that’s right, a linebacker) with only three, and it’s easy to see that all of Greenard’s sacks were hard-fought for. While it would be premature to assume that Greenard will be a top-10 rusher next year, it’s more than reasonable to expect a 10-sack season from the budding star.

The magic recipe that will help propel him there? The additions of Mario Addison, Jerry Hughes, and Rasheem Green should serve to help bring pressure from the opposite side of the line. Additionally, a full season of exposure as a rusher will help give Greenard the insight he needs to work through the off-season (as carefully detailed by Aaron Wilson). The watchful eye of defensive-minded coach Lovie Smith should also help power him to new heights. Add in a little dash of “contract-season magic”, and you’ve got a perfect potion for record season from the former Gator.

Final Verdict

Official stamp: Hope

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