Former Florida/Jackson State LB James Houston IV selected #217 by Detroit Lions in NFL Draft

James Houston IV
Photo credit: Kim Klement, USA Today

Former Gators linebacker-turned-Jackson-State-terror James Houston IV has a new home.

Houston, originally out of Davie, FL and a member of the Gators’ 2017 recruiting class, has been drafted #217 overall by the Detroit Lions. You can watch his Florida highlights here. You can watch his Jackson State highlights here.

Houston is far from the biggest linebacker in this class. But what he doesn’t have in size, he more than compensates for with his aggressive style of play, speed, strength, and extremely high level of intelligence.

He started off his career in Gainesville with the Gators in a reserve role in 2018, seeing the field primarily on special teams- where he blocked one punt and outright tackled the punter on another punt. Over the course of his three year career at Florida, Houston rotated in and out a lot, always being used as a role player in Todd Grantham’s defense, but never quite being utilized in a starting role. However, whenever Houston did get his chances on the field, he displayed that aggression, speed, strength, and intelligence on a regular basis, most notably by lighting up Georgia QB D’Wan Mathis in Florida’s 2020 victory over the Bulldogs.

James Houston IV then decided to transfer to Jackson State for two reasons (aside from the chance to play for Deion Sanders).

One, because of his consistency in making plays and Grantham categorically refusing to play him more than on a rotational basis despite that consistency. Two- and far more importantly- his family has a deep, multi-generational history of attending graduate school at Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCUs), and he wanted to follow in his family’s footsteps by starting his Master’s degree (in Urban and Regional Planning) at an HBCU. Or as he put it when first telling me about his decision almost a year ago: “I want to get back to my roots.”

Upon arriving in Jackson, Houston immediately became a terror. And thus, James Houston IV earned the nickname of “The Problem” because of the headaches he caused for opposing offensive coordinators.

Houston racked up 16.5 sacks in his lone season in Jackson- that qualified as the second-best in all of Division I FBS- and earned a PFF pass rushing grade of 95.4%. His tremendous season earned him invitations to both the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl- and in an almost unprecedented move, accepted both invites. And he continued to turn heads throughout both weeks, impressing scouts and fellow players alike with his intelligence and physicality.

As for his lack of size? Houston makes a point to call it a blessing in disguise. On the In All Kinds Of Weather Forecast last week, Houston told me that being smaller helps him stay closer to the ground. “The low man on the line of scrimmage is always going to win,” he remarked.

And that’s emblematic of the attitude James Houston IV has always taken. He knows his strengths, and how to use them, and he always finds ways to compensate for any disadvantages he may find facing him- whether that’s not being the prototypical NFL size, or being unfortunate enough to play under a defensive coordinator in Todd Grantham who, to be frank, should never have been hired at Florida.

So Houston is off to the Detroit, joining fellow former Gators Kaiir Elam, Zach Carter, and Dameon Pierce.

Best of luck, James. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch you these past four seasons, not only as a fan of the sport of football but as your friend. Here’s to nothing but success and joy at the next level.

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