Mario Williams. A 6'7'', 291-pound, 24-year-old defensive end who has averaged over 13 sacks in his last two seasons.
And he’s still a kid.
Many feel the 2009-10 season will be Williams’ year. Where he breaks out from being a talented rookie, to a defensive megastar.
Think James Harrison.
The most surprising thing about the Williams story is the fact that he has to go down as one of the least known No. 1 picks in draft history.
Until Houston started courting him, not many fans had Mario very high on their draft boards.
So how did this deal come about?
Firstly, Mario didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Houston had been watching him for a long time, and liked what they saw.
GM at the time, Charles Casserly, watched Williams eight times during his final college year, and liked what he was seeing.
After a trip to watch Williams against Florida State, he told a friend at Sports Illustrated Magazine, "This guy might make more Pro Bowls than anyone else in the draft”.
They were still far from convinced though. Well until the combine.
They knew Williams was a powerhouse, but were concerned that he took plays off, lacked aggression, and wasn’t athletic enough.
Then they watched a 291-pound, 6’7'' athlete, run a 4.65 forty (only marginally slower than Brian Urlacher’s combine time), bench press 35 times, and put in one of the all-time great combine sessions.
They were sold.
Houston’s problems, however, were to come in the form of the Heisman Trophy. Running back Reggie Bush winning it, and hometown hero Vince Young coming in second.
Running back was a big need, and Vince was a fan favorite. There would be pressure to pick both.
Vince Young was never seriously considered.
In fact, The Texans didn’t even grade Young as first-round talent. They were alarmed by his inability to learn plays, and how, in truth, his college offense was dumbed down to help his game.
Then came his wonderlic score.
He had the physical tools, but not the footballing intelligence to lead an NFL offense.
I would say this was a smart talent assessment. Well, if the Texans hadn’t already offered David Carr a two-year contract extension, pre-draft.
Bush was a more difficult proposition. He was seemingly talented enough to make an immediate impact. But they liked Williams more.
A lot more.
The question for Houston was not who was the better player. It had already been established that they felt it was Mario Williams.
The question was whether they were prepared to turn down all of the attractive commercial bonuses that come with picking a star name like Bush, and at the same time alienate their fan base.
The fans wanted Bush. The owners wanted Williams.
Tough decision time.
They did the unthinkable. Picked their No. 1 choice, Williams, over the best player on the board (at the time), Reggie Bush.
Rumor had it that it was a fiscal pick. Financially motivated. Bush had priced himself out.
Rumor was wrong. Houston had basically agreed terms with both players on the eve of the draft, for basically the same pay.
It was a footballing decision. A very unpopular footballing decision.
Fans were perplexed.
Williams was booed pre-season.
The pick cost Casserly his job.
Fan feeling didn’t get any more placid when hometown hero Young won Rookie of the Year, and Reggie Bush starred for New Orleans in their deep playoff run.
This was a disaster.
Slowly, but surely opinion started to change.
Williams started to dominate.
Vince Young imploded on himself – suffering the exact same maturity problems that scared Houston off in the first place.
Bush started having injury problems, and people began to question whether his college game would actually translate to pro football.
Suddenly drafting Mario Williams became one of the smartest first round picks of all time. A team rising above fan and media pressure, to make the right call.
The future. Don’t write Bush off.
Trent Green, in his weekend column, stated that he felt Reggie would have 4 or 5 monster seasons, before he retired—starting next year.
A rushing, catching, kick returning phenom. And possibly a future 1,000-yard rushing, 1,000-yard receiving season. Maybe a few.
I agree. Reggie’s skill set is unparalleled, and he’s been unnervingly quiet all off-season. He may not have 10 big seasons, but the three, four, five that he manages will be up there with the best of all-time.
Vince has much more to prove. Even to win a starting place in the NFL.
However, Williams is already an elite Defensive End, and will only get better. He’s a franchise defensive player, who is maybe at the start of a Hall of Fame Career.
Historically, this may go down as one of the best picks in draft history.
Houston football fans should also give a cheeky "Thank you" to one time owner, Bud Adams, who controversially took the team to Tennessee in 1996.
Consensus opinion is that Bud picked Vince Young at three, purely to spite the Houston fans. And he quite simply couldn't resist the prospect of Houston native Young, destroying the Texans twice a year.
Without this intervention, Young certainly wouldn't have gone top five, and probably would have slid out of the top 10.
So Bud, ironically, made the Texans pick look even better with his mischief making.
If the fans made the pick, it would have been Bush. If not Bush then Young. If not Young then certainly not Williams.
On an ending note, a message to all fans, booing picks on draft day.
Sometimes we do get it wrong.