The 2011 NFL draft was a star-studded affair that included names like Cam Newton, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green. All have made appearances in the Pro Bowl. Two more players from that draft will be competing against each other, as the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans battle for the Governor’s Cup on Sunday: Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt.
Back in 2011, the Dallas Cowboys held the ninth overall pick in the draft and decided on bolstering a putrid offensive line with left tackle Tyron Smith out of USC. Smith has become the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman on what many consider the best offensive line in the NFL today. The pick was brilliant and wouldn’t be second guessed at all except for the guy Houston nabbed only two picks after Smith went to Dallas.
Smith has become the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman on what many consider the best offensive line in the NFL today.
J.J. Watt has been nothing short of otherworldly on the Texans defensive line. In 2012, he collected a mind-numbing 20.5 sacks from his defensive end position on his way to winning the defensive player of the year award. (The entire Dallas defense is on pace for 20 sacks this season.)
Watt is also a marketing dream, starring in commercials and television shows; he has possibly the coolest introduction in HBO Hard Knocks history. All of the attention and accolades have led to the Dallas coaching staff’s defending their pick of Smith ahead of Watt this week.
The Cowboys shouldn’t even have to field questions about whether they regret picking Smith first. At the time, the Dallas offensive line was old and sieve-like, Tony Romo was a multimillion-dollar quarterback running for his life in every game, and the running game was nonexistent.
Dallas absolutely had to have help along the offensive line. Smith was the highest-rated player left on the board at a position of desperate need, plus he’s nearly two years younger than Watt. The pick made sense at the time and still does now.
The truth is that no one knew J.J. Watt would be as good as he has become. Call it the intangibles, heart, whatever you want, but had people known Watt would end up like he did, he would have been a top five pick.
Smith wouldn’t be far behind him, and the biggest reason I think the Cowboys might choose differently today is because the introverted Smith isn’t a marketing machine like Watt is, and we all know which players Jerry Jones would want to draft.
On Sunday, Smith gets to line up against Watt, directly across from him at times, and has a chance to show the NFL world that he deserved to be picked in the top 10 of the draft. Neutralizing Watt would not only give the Cowboys a great chance to win the game on Sunday, but would also quiet those who rely on hindsight to nitpick one of the Cowboys’ finest draft choices in recent memory.