Houston Texans: Does Vince Wilfork Have Anything Left?

For the first time in his 10-year NFL career, Vince Wilfork will not have the “Flying Elvis” on his helmet. Instead, he will be anchoring a defensive line in the Lone Star State as a member of the Houston Texans. After winning his second Super Bowl with the Patriots back in February, a thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Wilfork signed a two-year deal with the Texans worth $9 million with $5 million guaranteed this offseason.

At 33 years old, however, there are some questions surrounding his effectiveness and durability. How much does the big man have left in the tank? Does his playing time need to be reduced in order to preserve his health?  Of course, this isn’t the first time Wilfork has faced serious questions about his future in the NFL.

In 2013, Wilfork’s play began to dip before he tore his right Achilles’ tendon against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, ending his season. After a tumultuous off-season that saw Wilfork clean out his locker at Gillette Stadium at one point, he rebounded with a very solid 2014 season. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Wilfork played 73.9 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in 2014 and 311 more snaps than the next defensive tackle on the roster.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (right) lines up across from Green Bay Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga (left) during the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

He was a major contributor to a Patriots’ defense that ranked ninth in the NFL against the run in 2014 (despite struggling at different points in the season, particularly against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round). Pro Football Focus gave Wilfork an excellent +10.1 grade against the run, and he should be able to help improve a Texans’ run defense that ranked 10th in 2014, especially if he plays the majority of his snaps at the nose tackle position.

According to PFF, Wilfork only played 158 total snaps at the nose tackle position in 2014, compared to 420 at the 3-technique. The Patriots relied on Wilfork to play the 3-technique, a spot usually reserved for penetrating defensive tackles, because of their limited depth at the position, but this clearly doesn’t play to Wilfork’s strengths, as PFF graded him at -9.7 in terms of a pass rusher.

Back in a traditional 3-4 alignment in Houston, however, will allow Wilfork to play the majority of his snaps at the nose tackle position doing what he does best – taking up space. With Wilfork in the middle of the sensational J.J. Watt and the up-and-coming Jared Crick, opposing offensive lines will have their hands full with the Texans’ defensive line. This should free up space for pass rushers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, with teams potentially relying on tight ends and running backs to block them one-on-one.

Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) on the bench during the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Wilfork also brings something to this team that can’t be measured or graded – leadership. He was one of the main leaders of the Patriots’ defense in recent years, particularly on a defensive line loaded with young players including Chandler Jones, Chris Jones, and Dominique Easley. The Texans coaching staff struggled with their own young talented nose tackle, Louis Nix III, in 2014, and are hoping that Wilfork’s experience, leadership, and commitment to winning will rub-off on the second year player.