The Lions’ edge rush has received a boost in advance of the team’s divisional round matchup. Per a team announcement, James Houston was activated from injured reserve on Thursday. In a corresponding move, Julian Okwara was waived.
Today marked the end of Houston’s 21-day activation window. Had he not been brought back onto the roster, he would have reverted to season-ending IR. Instead, he will be an option to play on Sunday against the Buccaneers. The 25-year-old has not played since Week 2 due to a broken ankle.
A sixth-round pick last year, Houston became a late-season surprise for the Lions by debuting on Thanksgiving and finishing the season with eight sacks. The Jackson State alum did not have a chance to build on that success this season, but like C.J. Gardner-Johnson, he will make a late-season return after a major injury.
Detroit has seen its Okwara investments deliver up-and-down tenures. Drafted with Romeo Okwara already on the team, Julian came in as a third-round pick in Bob Quinn‘s final year as GM. While the younger Okwara brother did post five sacks in 2021, he has combined for only four over the past two seasons. The Notre Dame alum played in nine games and started one this season, doing so as Romeo — effectively sidelined for two seasons due to an Achilles tear — made his way back. Romeo played in 16 games this season, working as a rotational rusher off the bench and collecting two sacks.
Despite the Lions making their first venture to the divisional round since 1991, Aidan Hutchinson has not received consistent help in the sack department this season. The NFL’s QB pressures leader came on strong late this season, totaling 11.5 sacks along with two more against the Rams in the wild-card round, but the Lions have no other player with more than five. And DT Alim McNeill, who joined Houston in being activated off IR recently, is the only non-Hutchinson Lion with more than three. This seems like an area Detroit will address in the offseason, though Houston coming back healthy for the 2024 campaign will bolster the group.
Having seen Houston, Gardner-Johnson and McNeill return from IR over the past three weeks, the Lions have one IR activation remaining.