Conventional wisdom says that the Titans and Jaguars really screwed up by taking Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert during the 2011 NFL Draft with J.J. Watt still on the board. They did screw up; Locker is out of the league and Gabbert's on his third team. The decision making when it . But it's not like the Texans are drafting savants who cackled as Watt fell to them at No. 11 overall.
In fact, it's quite the opposite. While doing a bunch of research for a piece on Wade Phillips (dropping Friday, link to come here and I'll tweet it out too) I stumbled upon an interview he did with The Big Lead back in 2014 while taking time off from football. In that interview, Phillips pointed out that the Texans were very much split on drafting Watt even on the day of the draft.
"With players, you give your opinion and then whoever's in charge of the Draft decides how good your opinion is," Phillips said at the time. "With [Saints defensive end] Rickey [Jackson], my Dad sent me up to watch him and Hugh Green at Pittsburgh, and we obviously ended up picking him.
"With JJ, half the group didn't want him and half the group did. Our side won, and it turned out great."
Watt was a combine freak and a productive player at Wisconsin but he was hardly a slam dunk in terms of being the best defensive player on the board. First of all, this was a loaded draft: Von Miller went second and you can justify that pick even in a "we're redrafting right now" situation if you really wanted to. (Watt would be the pick at No. 2 behind Cam Newton though. Julio Jones and A.J. Green are in the conversation too, though. My goodness that draft.)
Look at Watt's NFL.com draft profile. One of his strengths is that he "has a good combination of size and speed." You think?? Drafting is hard because projecting players to the next level is one of the most difficult things to do.
As Phillips admitted during the interview, "there was some dissent" toward drafting Watt and even the people backing his selection had no idea that he would end up being as good as he's been.
"A few of us stood up strongly for him at 11th overall — there was some dissent — but I don't think any of us thought at the time that he'd be the dominant player that he's been," Phillips recalled. "We thought he was gonna be good. What we saw is that he had a great feel for where the football was. He had more pass breakups than any of the defensive backs. He knocked down so many passes. He's a great athlete, and I think people kind of miss that. They worked him out at the combine as a linebacker, and he moved pretty well there, and he has tremendous acceleration.
"We liked him a lot, obviously, and after his first year I told everybody he was gonna be in the Hall of Fame."
He said exactly that, calling Watt a "bust" in the Canton sort of the way during the offseason after Watt's rookie year. At the time no one called Phillips crazy but he was definitely met with some skepticism when it came to the bar he set for Watt after just a single year where the defensive end recorded 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and four pass deflections.
Turns out that Phillips was right, because Watt promptly erupted for one of the greatest seasons anyone's ever seen from a defensive player in 2012, recording 20.5 sacks, 16 (!) passes defensed and his first year as an All Pro.
And if you need further proof, don't forget that fans booed the pick when it was made at the Texans draft party.
Someone needs to find the guy who said "I hate the pick" and find out if he's been going to Texans games for the last six years or so. (Seriously -- does he just pretend like he didn't rip Watt on local television? Does he go to games and wear a Watt jersey and act like it never happened and then cry in the shower at night? Is he still riding out this ludicrous bandwagon six years later and claiming Watt's injuries are proof of what happened? We need answers, Houston.)
Fortunately the Texans listened to the people who liked Watt. Otherwise history could have been dramatically altered in Houston.