While the Houston Texans lack the Chicago Bears’ legendary legacy of Hall of Fame linebackers, they have had their fair share of excellent linebackers play for them, especially when viewed through the prism of the franchise’s brief existence.
The Texans have had one of the greatest defenses in the league numerous times during the last 18 years.
Draft guru Zach Cunningham was rated the fourth-best linebacker entering the NFL in 2017 by Mike Mayock. Cunningham was selected 57th overall in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, filling the vacuum left by Texans mainstay Brian Cushing, who was suspended (again) for using performance-enhancing chemicals.
Cunningham started 13 games as a rookie and finished with 90 total tackles, five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six passes defended, and one forced fumble. By the end of the regular season in 2019, he had 142 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.
McKinney was ranked second-best linebacker in 2015 by the same draft expert who ranked Cunningham fourth-best in 2017. After deciding to leave college at the end of his junior year, draft experts predicted McKinney would be selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
While playing for the University of Illinois, Whitney Mercilus Mercilus (#1 on the Best Named Texans List) led the NCAA with 16 sacks and 9 forced fumbles in his junior season. He won the Ted Hendricks Award, Bill Willis Award, CFPA Defensive Player of the Year award, and unanimous First Team All-American honors as a result of his accomplishment.
Ryans had 12 solo tackles in his first game in battle red, and he hasn’t looked back since. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after finishing second among all defenders with 155 total tackles in his first season (31 more than the next nearest rookie).
Ryans was an every-down kind of guy, a true “quarterback of the defense,” and player others looked to for leadership, both on and off the field, unlike many players these days.
Cushing finished third on the all-time tackles list with 424 during his nine seasons with the Texans, and he holds the top spot when you exclude plays made with teams not based in Houston. He is sixth in tackles for loss (42), sixth in quarterback hits (57), fourth in caused fumbles (9), and first in hits on Alfred Blue during “Hard Knocks.”