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Rex Ryan says his brother pushed the Cowboys to draft J.J. Watt instead: A Jerry Jones fail?

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J.J. Watt went 11th to the Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Cowboys could have him first at No. 9. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
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If Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had his way in the 2011 NFL Draft, things would look a lot different for both Jerry Jones' franchise and the Houston Texans today.

For Ryan pushed the Cowboys to draft J.J. Watt with the ninth pick in the draft, two spots before the Texans nabbed the game-changing force. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan — Rob's brother — revealed that little inside nugget on a call with five Houston reporters, including CultureMap, Wednesday afternoon.

"I know my brother was wanting (Watt) in Dallas," Rex Ryan said. "He lost out in that battle. They took that tackle instead. We kept saying, 'You got to get this kid, you got to get this kid.' And sure enough, Houston ends up with him."

And the rest, as they say, . . . is dominance.

 "I know my brother was wanting (Watt) in Dallas," Rex Ryan said. "He lost out in that battle. They took that tackle instead." 

With Watt emerging as the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, the Texans are 4-0 and widely considered the best team in the NFL. As for the Cowboys . . . well, no one is making plans to see them in New Orleans on Feb. 3. Dallas is a 2-2 team coming off a blowout Monday night home loss to the Chicago Bears and Rob Ryan's defense (while improved from 2011) isn't scaring anyone.

Regrets, Jerry's had a few

Instead of taking Watt in that 2011 draft — the first draft for both Rob Ryan and the Texans' Wade Phillips as defensive coordinators with the teams — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones endorsed picking offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who has been anything but dominant early in his career. In fact, Smith is mostly known for the penalties he keeps racking up.

Now, Watt was hardly considered a can't-miss future star at the time. On draft night, I wrote that the Texans made a mistake in not taking defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who'd been dominant in the biggest games at Auburn, instead. And nine other teams passed on Watt besides the Cowboys, allowing Phillips and Texans general manager Rick Smith to pounce.

But Rex Ryan says that he and his brother had a feeling about the "fanatical effort" kid from Wisconsin. And now, Rex Ryan isn't sure that even Carolina quarterback Cam Newton would be drafted ahead of Watt if the 2011 NFL Draft was redone today.

"(Watt) might be the first overall pick if you’re having that draft all over again," Ryan said. "Certainly, he makes a huge difference and an impact. Really, as a defensive coach all your life, it’s one of those rare guys that comes along once in a long time."

 And now, Rex Ryan isn't sure that even Carolina quarterback Cam Newton would be drafted ahead of Watt if the 2011 NFL Draft was done all over again. 

Ryan went on to compare Watt to Hall of Fame defensive end Dan Hampton, who starred on a 1985 Chicago Bears defense that's regarded by many as the best NFL defense of all time.

It's clear that Rex Ryan feels like his brother should have that type of force at his disposal in Dallas. Of course, Watt is Rex's worry this week — with the Jets set to host the Texans in a Monday Night Football showcase in northern New Jersey.

This defensive guru — who saw his own defense absolutely obliterated in a 34-0 home loss to San Francisco in Week Four — cannot help but appreciate what Watt is doing through four games though. When Rex Ryan talks about J.J. Watt there is more admiration than dread in his voice.

"Obviously, J.J. Watt, if you have a vote for Defensive Player of the Year how do you not give it to that young man?" Ryan asked. "Seven and a half sacks already, 10 hits on the quarterback, 10 tackles for loss, six (passes broken up), two for interceptions . . ."

Yes, an opposing NFL coach just reeled off Watt's stats like he's a fawning fan looking at the back of a sports card. J.J. Watt can do that to people who love defense.

"He’s really struggling out there is what it looks like to me," Ryan deadpanned.

It's not hard to picture Rob Ryan lamenting to his brother about the game changer that got away. They took that tackle instead. Jerry Jones didn't listen to his defensive coordinator. Rick Smith listened to his (and his own scouting). This is one of those moments in sports that defines franchises even if no one realizes it at the time.

The Texans and Cowboys both may never be the same again.

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