Did Rob Ryan want J.J. Watt over Tyron Smith?

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
9:10
AM ET


IRVING, Texas -- You can't go back and re-draft now but just two years into this and the 2011 NFL Draft could be something worth looking at again.

That year the Cowboys selected USC tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth selection overall. The Cowboys needed to upgrade their offensive line and selecting Smith was the right choice because he was projected as a left tackle.

But it left Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt on the board and he was picked No. 11 by the Houston Texans.

In barely two seasons, Watt has 13 career sacks, including 7.5 this season.

Smith has switched positions, going from right tackle in an impressive rookie season to the left side in 2012. After three weeks, he led the NFL with six penalties.

What's interesting about this is it appears Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pleaded with the front office to draft Watt over Smith. Or at least that's what his brother, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call with the Houston media in anticipation of Monday night's clash.

"Well, the first thing, you love the fanatical effort," Rex Ryan said. "The guy plays with his hair on fire and that’s something you notice. But the size, strength, athleticism; it’s rare to find a guy with that kind of combination. I know my brother was wanting him when he was in Dallas. 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.

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

At the time, the Cowboys didn't really need another pass rusher alongside outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, given their high-praise for outside linebacker Anthony Spencer and the expected emergence of defensive end Jason Hatcher.

But it's interesting to note the 2012 struggles of Smith and the solid play of Watt. This could all change, and Smith might become a solid tackle for many years, which is what the Cowboys project.

But to compare the careers of Smith and Watt moving forward is interesting.

When asked who does Watt remind him of, Rex Ryan said, "I’d say maybe like Dan Hampton. That kind of length and size and power. That’s the kind of guy he reminds me of."
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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