Needing a game-changer on defense, the Houston Texans turned to Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt with the 11th overall pick in Thursday night's NFL Draft.
Watt put up a standout season in the Badgers' Rose Bowl run and had tested off the charts at the NFL Combine. But he's not your usual football star story. Watt started as a tight end at mid-major Central Michigan and he had to begin his Big Ten career on the scout team. Before he could even get as far as the scout team and walk on without a scholarship at Wisconsin, Watt took several months off from football to work at Pizza Hut.
Watt's about as far as you can get from a Blue Chip recruit who's always been fawned over. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden calls him "a self-made man."
Still, Watt's numbers at the Combine were anything but the stuff of a walk-on. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Watt finished in the top five in every defensive lineman test in Indianapolis, including, most surprisingly, speed. Watt ran a 4.76 40-yard dash, impressive numbers for a player of his size.
Especially considering that Watt often found himself branded as an all-effort, intangibles guy who's frequently had his athletic ability questioned.
One thing's certain: Watt already knows how to play to the Houston crowd.
"It's a great day to be a Texan," Watt said in a phone interview played on the Reliant Stadium speakers, drawing cheers at the Texans' draft party.
New Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips talked a lot about Watt's versatility and how he believes it will free up Mario Williams in his 3-4 scheme in many ways. Watt called Phillips "a great coach."
Say this for Watt, he knows how to say what everyone wants to hear.
Phillips calls the Texans' new draft pick "a high-motor guy", raving over the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder's knack for getting up and deflecting passes at the line.
The Texans came into this draft with one mission: Improve a pathetic defense. Forget all reaching attempts at fakely high-brow analysis, that's the bottom line for general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak, who both know their continued employment hinges on the results of the 2011 season.
Patrick Peterson — the LSU cornerback star that the Texans lusted after, but weren't willing to give up multiple draft picks to move up and grab — went to the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth pick. The Texans' AFC South rival Tennessee made the first curious pick of the draft when they selected Washington quarterback Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick. Locker was one of three quarterbacks who went in the first 10 picks of the draft.
Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton went No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers and Texas A&M pass-rusher extraordinaire Von Miller was grabbed with the second pick by the Denver Broncos.