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J.J. Watt: Dreaming Big, Working Harder

Despite Houston's sweltering heat, the Texans coaches have been grinning ear to ear often during the first two weeks of training camp. Most of the time, those grins have been prompted by another great play from DE/DT J.J Watt. They said he had a relentless motor when they drafted him and now the coaches beam with satisfaction every time he beats OL veterans like Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel or bats down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He's become a fan favorite in the training camp bleachers and on twitter. Everyone from the coaches to the most cynical bloggers have now penciled him in as a starter and those howls of disapproval that rang out at sports bars across Houston last April seem like a distant memory. After the jump, I'll remind you of the criticisms leveled at the Texans for taking #99 with the #11 pick in the draft and why they seem so silly now.

  • The Texans are loaded at DE, so why take another one? If you were one of the people counting Mario Williams as one of those DE's like myself, it's easy to understand your confusion at the time. Now we know Mario is moving to the rush WOLB (or Elephant position) in Wade's defense (so that's one less DE.) In order for Mario to exploit offensive formations, the Texans needed a true, 5-technique DE to line up over the OT and cover two gaps... a Robin for Mario's Batman if you will. Until they drafted Watt, the Texans were pretty thin on 5-technique DE's. Asides from infuriating penalties, Antonio Smith has held down the LDE spot respectably the last two seasons; but he was moved to the RDE spot to fill the hole left by Mario. Once you factor in Amobi Okoye's imminent release, it must have been obvious to Wade Phillips in April that the Texans needed another 5-technique DE to cover all the bases. With Watt and Smith starting and guys like Tim Bulman, Tim Jamison and Damione Lewis providing depth; the Texans are now actually loaded at DE.
  • Robert "Bling Bling" Quinn was still on the board and everyone knows 3-4 defenses need an OLB (converted from DE) to rush the QB! See above. I'll take a proven QB killer like Mario over an unproven rookie like Quinn any day. Perhaps that's why the Texans passed on Quinn or perhaps it was the brain tumor. Either way, do you really want a player who would risk his own career and his team's success for some jewelry?
  • Nick Fairley was still on the board! Moar NT! I understand the desire for space-eating, two-gap defensive linemen and how it causes people to overlook flaws like poor conditioning and lazy play. I'm just glad Phillips knows better and has decided to utilize a 1-gap NT assignment. Having Watt and Smith on either side will make it much easier for Mitchell or Cody to pin their ears back and penetrate from the NT spot. If you're still aching for moar NT, get ready.... because I'm going to say it again: Earl Mitchell is going to blow your mind this season.
  • Prince Amukamara was still on the board! Rookie corners are bad, mmkay? Or is that just the "most pro-ready" ones? Seriously though, I think our secondary is starting to look pretty good. Additions like Johnathon Joseph, Danieal Manning, Brandon Harris, Roc Carmichael, Vance Joseph (new DB coach) and the promise of a long-awaited pass rush have fortified the secondary sufficiently in my opinion. Besides, his royal highness broke his foot during his second practice and the Giants are in a tizzy now.
  • If they were going to take a DE, they should've taken Cameron Jordan! This kind of person probably enjoys debating which lite beer tastes better. But, if we're splitting hairs, Watt had better combine numbers than Jordan and he's a little bigger. Besides, a dozen other teams took a pass on Jordan (even though half of them selected another DL) before the Saints picked him to fill a big need at #24.
  • They should've traded up and got someone exciting to the fan base and national media. Like Atlanta? As wonderful as it sounds, trading up usually costs too much and yields too little. Atlanta will live to regret sacrificing so much for Julio Jones.
  • They should've traded down to get Watt later and another pick. Considering 6 of the next 10 picks after the Texans selected J.J. Watt were used to select defensive linemen, I suspect the Texans decided to get their guy when they could. Outside of Marcell Dareus, many scouts had Watt rated as the top 5-tech DE in the draft.

Hindsight might be 20/20, but it's crystal-clear now that the Texans drafted who they thought was the best player available to fill a huge need. They also got a class act that devotes his free time to charities (including his own Justin J. Watt Foundation), visiting kids in the hospital and patiently signing autographs. Now that training camp has provided Watt with a stage, the fans are starting to see why Phillips wanted him so badly. In addition to having the physical gifts needed for the defensive line and being a class act, he has an intense work ethic. His Foundation's motto is "Dream big, work hard" and it seems to be Watt's personal motto as well. Fellow DE Antonio Smith said about Watt, "He works hard, he's a dog. He's got some quickness, he's got some power, he plays with leverage, good hands and he's got some of the raw talents that you would need to be a great defensive lineman in this game."

In case you haven't already heard the story, Watt's journey to the NFL wasn't typical and it shows how hard he's willing to work. Although he wanted to play football for the University of Wisconsin in his home state since he was a boy, he accepted a scholarship to Central Michigan University when he left high school. He became a starting TE his freshman year and the CMU Chippewas won their conference and went to a bowl game.

However, Watt had bigger dreams. In addition to always wanting to be a Wisconsin Badger; Watt didn't think that playing TE in a spread offense for the Chippewas would fulfill his ultimate dream: playing in the NFL (despite Kubiak's penchant for you-know-what.) So, he decided to take a huge risk and give up his CMU scholarship to chase his dreams of being a Badger and eventually playing in the NFL. He returned to his hometown of Pewaukee, WI and started working at a local Pizza Hut to save money for tuition for UW. He also attended classes at a local community college.

When Watt went to Wisconsin, he had to earn his spot on the roster as a walk on. He did such a great job playing on the scout team that Wisconsin offered him a full scholarship and red-shirted him for 2008. The rest of the story is more familiar: Watt dominated the line of scrimmage for the next two years as the Badgers went 10-3 and 11-2 respectively. During those two seasons, Watt compiled 106 tackles, 36.5 TFL (tackles for loss), 11.5 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries, 13 deflected passes and 4 blocked kicks. Obviously, Watt works as hard on game day as he does chasing his dreams.

Houston, it looks like we finally have a first round draft pick that satisfies the coaches and the fans. You might say that he's a dreamer, but as long as Watt's next big dream is the Super Bowl, I don't think we'll mind one bit. (In case you missed it, UprootedTexan posted an excellent interview with Watt last month.)