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Houston Texans Select Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt With 11th Overall Pick

Faithful SB Nation Houston readers, I was not surprised that the Houston Texans selected Wisconsin Badger defensive end J.J. Watt last night in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. In my last mock draft, I thought the Texans would grab a defensive end. I just had chosen Cal’s Cameron Jordan over Watt after struggling between the two. I’ll get into what I think Houston’s getting in Watt. First, I want to address why Houston’s braintrust passed on other players.

The rumors were, indeed, right. Rick Smith and Wade Phillips had their eyes set on Missouri’s Aldon Smith. "I wasn’t surprised he [Smith] went to them," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We liked him all along. I think he’s a good player. I think that’s a good pick for them." I’m not too broken up over the loss of Smith and think he’s a better fit for San Francisco. Still, the Texans passed on Robert Quinn, Prince Amukamara, and Nick Fairley which initially angered some fans (still does probably).

Fairley was, in my estimations, never considered. Coming off his lone good college season, Fairley was a great 3-technique – the undertackle position that Amobi Okoye played last year. The same Okoye many have speculated is on his way out because he doesn’t fit the new defensive scheme Phillips will install here. Aside from not fitting the defensive scheme, Fairley’s attitude and work ethic (often compared to Albert Haynesworth) made teams shy away from the guy who was in debate for the first overall pick. Detroit thinks they have a locker room that can keep the kid in line and, more importantly, Fairley fits their defense. 

I had said Quinn would be passed on if the Texans had a chance at him, and I turned out to be right. My feeble attempts to grab credibility aside, I never saw Robert Quinn as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I don’t think he would’ve been as effective standing up than with his hand on the ground as that smaller, quicker defensive end that could cause some havoc. Not only that, Quinn had struggles in contributing to any run defense. Philips likes his players to be versatile and contribute to both the run and pass. Finally, as was said during the ESPN broadcast, Quinn didn’t clear some teams’ medical tests and wasn’t even on some draft boards due to his benign brain tumor. Seeing San Francisco and Washington pass on Quinn for other hybrids should send a loud message that it was more than just Houston who didn't liked what they saw in Mr. Quinn (who, despite all my hating in the pre-draft season, should make a fine pass rusher for the 4-3 defense in St. Louis). 

As for Amukamara, I guess the Texans were really gun shy about another first round cornerback. Let’s see if they draft a mid-round guy, as all signs pointed to by their visits, and pick up a top-flight free agent cornerback.

Now onto Watt – the All-Big Ten, All-American, Wisconsin MVP defensive end. I’ll state upfront, the redshirt junior will make an impact. As a two-year starter, J.J. Watt has shown the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield with 14 quarterback hurries, 36 tackles for a loss, and 11.5 sacks. He’s also long enough to have broken up 12 passes, intercepted another pass, and blocked four kicks. At 6’5’’and 290 pounds, you have someone strong enough to hold the point of attack (he had 35 reps at the Combine) and fast enough to get after the passer (his Combine times in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuffle, and three-cone drill were all comparable to teammate Mario Williams). Fans shouldn't let the description of a high-motor guy deceive them. Watt has the physical capabilities to be a dominant 3-4 defensive end, as he was often described during this entire pre-draft process when he was mocked as high as 7 and as low as 18. 

Is it a safe pick? Yeah, absolutely it is. Watt brings no character risk, no injury history, and has demonstrated his talent on the field of play. The newest Texan has also improved every year - from his time at community college through both seasons at Wisconsin. It’s what fans should want as a first round pick especially since fans are clamoring for results on the field.

Per Wade’s comments, he envisions Watt playing end (the five-technique) on the first two downs before sliding into tackle on third down passing situations alongside Antonio Smith while being sandwiched between Williams and Connor Barwin. Just the thought of that defensive line, with its mix of speed and power, is enticing. As with all Texan first rounders, J.J. Watt is going to get his chance to make an impact early and often. 

I know fans will eventually come around on Watt. He will make plays on the field, put in the effort on the field and in practice, and likely do good things for the community. Above all else, he’s not afraid to shy away from any expectations and set a high bar for himself. As J.J. said last night, "I'm going to put a ton of time in the film room, the weight room and on the field. Like I said, I'm going to give you everything I have on every single play, and at the end of the day, we're going to win football games because of it."

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.