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2011 NFL Draft: A Look Behind The Curtain, Including Who The Houston Texans Really Wanted Instead Of J.J. Watt

The idea of J.J. Watt playing for a team that isn't the Houston Texans is enough to make Houstonians break into a cold sweat. But that's almost what happened, and now Rick Smith tells us why.

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With the 2016 NFL Draft only two days away, it's worth remembering how totally imprecise the "science" of drafting really is. We sit here in our ivory tower and declare who our team SHOULD draft and often immediately lament who they actually draft.  Yet there are so many moving pieces to each draft that the best laid plans often go astray. Sometimes, that can be a good thing. Thanks to Ben Baskin's oral history of the 2011 NFL Draft, you can see how things almost played out for your Houston Texans five years ago. For example: Did you know Rick Smith had a trade up in the first round locked and loaded?

Rick Smith (Texans GM): There was one guy I fell in love with, who I absolutely wanted on our team, and who I’d prearranged a trade to move up [from 11] and get: Patrick Peterson. I arranged with San Francisco to move up to No. 7 if Peterson was available there.

Peterson: Honestly, I didn’t hear nothing about where I was going. Right before I walked into the green room, my dad was like, "I’m hearing Houston and Philly are trying to trade up and get you." I don’t have any idea where my dad was getting this. But I was like, "Houston—that’s a good fit, close to home."

Smith: I thought I had it down pretty good. I knew Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4—they went exactly as we anticipated. And I knew what No. 6 would do. The only thing I was worried about was Arizona.

Of course, Patrick Peterson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth overall pick, scuttling Rick Smith's grand plan to trade up for a shutdown cornerback. Instead, your Houston Texans had to settle for noted bust J.J. Watt. Here's some backstory on how that went down.

Mike Maccagnan (Texans director of college scouting): When quarterbacks start going off the board, they push other players down to you. Here it was Locker and Gabbert who helped us get [Wisconsin defensive end] J.J. Watt [at No. 11].

Schefter: J.J. was definitely not a sure thing. Someone told me he had a hard time beating double teams.

Kiper: The main question was, Can a guy who runs a 4.84 40 be a great pass rusher? Most pass rushers run 4.65 and below.

Cosell: He lined up inside a lot in college; he wasn’t really used as a pass rusher.

​​J.J. Watt: I understood people’s questions about me. I also understood that the draft isn’t an exact science. Nobody can perfectly predict how a guy is going to be one, two, four, five, 10 years down the road.

Maccagnan: Very early on in the process, Rick Smith and I were joking around, and Rick said, "You know who’s going to be our pick? J.J. Watt." That was like a month in advance. Sometimes these things happen for a reason.

Rick Smith: We were moving toward a 3–4 defense, and one of the things you have to do in a 3–4 defense is shore up the edge. He had all the elements we thought were necessary to play that spot in our scheme.

Watt: I thought I’d fall somewhere in the middle of the first round, probably in that 17 to 18 range—New England, San Diego. . . . But I didn’t care where I went. I didn’t look at draft day as, "Oh, I need to get picked this high or by this team. . . ."

Maccagnan: We had a lot of discussions, weighing between [Auburn defensive tackle] Nick Fairley and J.J. But it became pretty clear we liked J.J. more than Nick [who would go at No. 13 to the Lions].

Watt: Before the draft, I took a picture in front of Radio City Music Hall. Nobody knew who I was. I was like, Tonight is pretty big, and my life is going to change.

Rick Smith: We loved the story of the guy who wanted to walk on and prove himself.

Watt: For the first eight picks I was just hanging out with my family, shooting the breeze, not really paying attention. I looked at that day like, Wherever I get picked, that’s just my starting point; then I go from there. When I got picked, I was over congratulating Blaine Gabbert. My agent grabbed me and was like, "Hey, you might want to sit down." And then the phone rang.

While it would have been nice to see the Texans land Patrick Peterson, it would have been a disaster for the Texans to have selected Nick Fairley, a player many here at BRB lusted after.  The best possible scenario for the Texans was the one that ended up happening--Houston drafting J.J. Watt and providing their fans with the opportunity to watch one of the all-time greats every Sunday.

Remember that when we all freak out and declare Rick Smith a moron after the Texans' selection on Thursday night.