HOUSTON -- Jadeveon Clowney isn’t the only member of the Houston Texans’ front seven due for a new contract this offseason.
While Clowney and J.J. Watt typically get the headlines, nose tackle D.J. Reader is the player doing the dirty work -- “a grinder’s job,” according to Watt -- as a presence in the middle of the defensive line, taking on “double-teams so everybody else can make the plays.”
Don’t sell Reader short, though. He’s capable of making his fair share of impressive plays.
“He doesn't get enough credit for what he does,” Watt said. “If you really watch the film closely, you'll see D.J. sometimes runs down plays all the way down the line of scrimmage to the sideline. I think for a nose tackle to be able to do that, with the athleticism and the endurance he has, I don't think he gets enough credit."
Reader, a fifth-round pick in 2016 who became a starter in his second year, has played an important role during his three seasons in Houston. Because of the way the Texans take advantage of the skills of Watt and Clowney -- defensive line coach Anthony Weaver calls it “freelancing” -- it’s essential that everyone else in the front seven executes his job.
“In terms of the success of our defense, [Reader] is invaluable,” Weaver said. “While he may not fill up the stat sheet, all those guys who are filling up the stat sheet, whether it’s a linebacker behind him or J.J. [Watt] or J.D. [Clowney] on the outside, they know that a lot of that success is the result of what D.J. is doing.
“To me, D.J. is a strong pillar. If you’re talking about a house, you’re talking about a foundation. That’s D.J. Reader. He’s the guy who you build everything around. I think great defenses are built from the inside out. If you’re talking about the defensive line, that starts up front with D.J. Reader at nose tackle. Because if teams can just run right down the middle, if you don’t have a solid nose, it’s going to be bad for you. We force that ball to go outside, you don’t want to run into 90 [Clowney] and 99 [Watt] and 59 [OLB Whitney Mercilus] and all those guys. He enables us and allows us to do that.”
Reader says he prides himself on the role he plays for the Texans, saying it’s his job to “come in and be consistent every day” and be “a good teammate.”
“[Watt and I] talk through it,” Reader said. “I know he’s the one that gets to the quarterback the most often, so we talk through what he wants to do. We come up with a combination of how we’re going to do that.”
In 2018, Reader missed just one of his 36 tackling attempts, which was the fourth-best rate among interior defenders who played 500 or more snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Weaver describes Reader as a “quiet leader” who is respected in the Texans’ locker room.
"He's a leader on this defense,” Weaver said. “He's very smart. He's very smart and he relates to almost everybody. I think that's where some of his leadership skills and traits shine. Because he'll talk to the lowest guy on the totem pole, and the highest guy on the totem pole, and treat each and every one of them the same, and can relate to them. So, not only does he have tremendous value for us as a player, but he has tremendous value for us in that locker room as well."
Reader says he’s not thinking about a new deal, but has felt like he has found a home in Houston. The Texans have typically signed their draft picks to extensions before the start of their fourth season. Still, there’s no doubt the Texans have Reader in their plans for the foreseeable future given his importance to the defense.
“He does a tremendous job,” Mercilus said. “He definitely holds down the middle of the line. He’s quiet, but you know his presence is going to be there. The linebackers would say something if he was getting pushed back, but D.J., you can’t push him back at all."