Commentary

Say Cheese!

Rodgers and native son Watt top our ratings, putting Wisconsin in the limelight

Originally Published: August 30, 2013
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

You can find more than 600 varieties of cheese in the great state of Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsHard work and dedication are never in short supply in Wisconsin, says native son J.J. Watt.

In Pewaukee, outside Milwaukee in the southeast corner of the state, Bubba's Frozen Custard Jumbo on Capitol Drive is renowned for its white cheddar curds. Pewaukee, which means "lake of shells" in the language of the native Indians, is also famous for producing Justin James Watt, the relentless defensive end for the Houston Texans.

Now that we've reached the culmination of ESPN.com's special Top 200 players package, it can be revealed that Watt was graded the highest among the NFL's defensive players by our distinguished panel.

"Oh, wow," Watt said when told earlier this month from the Texans' training camp in Houston. "That's very cool. Thank you."

Watt's offensive counterpart was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Charles Rodgers, who was given the highest grade of any player, a smoking 9.92063492. Although Rodgers said he was flattered by the accolade, he doesn't feel particularly comfortable discussing his greatness and politely declined through a team spokesman to chat with ESPN.com.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't expand our thinking about Wisconsin as merely the state-of-the-art in dairy products. How about the epicenter of football talent? You're not getting twin No. 1s from Florida -- or Texas or Georgia.

Although Rodgers was born in Chico, Calif., and went on to star at Cal, he has played all eight of his professional seasons in the Badger State. Watt grew up in Wisconsin and played college ball for the Badgers in Madison. "I guess there's some good football in Wisconsin," Watt said. "I'm very honored and extremely proud of my roots."

Rodgers was not an instant success in Green Bay. After being selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, he watched Brett Favre play the quarterback position for three seasons. However, in his third year as the starter, Rodgers carried the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV and was named the game's MVP. His efficiency is, quite frankly, amazing. For his career, Rodgers has thrown 171 regular-season touchdown passes and only 46 interceptions. He set the record for passer rating in a season in 2011 (122.5). His career passer rating of 104.9 is more than seven points better than anyone who has ever played the game.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Matt Ludtke/Getty ImagesAaron Rogers might be from California originally, but Wisconsin has embraced him.

"Aaron's a heck of a player," Watt said. "I like him. He does things the right way. The University of Wisconsin does things the right way, too. I grew up a Packers fan. My whole life has been about the Packers."

Watt made a big impression out of the box. Drafted 11th overall in 2011, he put together a versatile rookie line: 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 passes defended and a blocked field goal. In the first playoff game in Houston franchise history, Watt returned an Andy Dalton pass for his first-ever touchdown at a critical time in what would be a Texans victory. In 2012, Watt exploded with a franchise record 20.5 sacks, along with 81 tackles, 16 passes defended and four forced fumbles. He was so adept at knocking passes to the ground that ESPN's Jon Gruden was moved to call him "J.J. Swatt."

According to Watt, this Wisconsin thing is no coincidence

"I think that people work hard in Wisconsin," he said. "They're very dedicated and very loyal. You get what you work for. That's true of me. My dad's [John] a firefighter. My mom [Connie] was a secretary and worked her way up to vice president of her company."

As he said this, Watt was sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Texans' offices in Houston. It was 100 degrees outside and seriously humid. Earlier, he had set off speculation in the local blogosphere when he was held out of 11-on-11 drills. Turned out it was just a routine rest for the guy who goes all-out in every drill. Watt's grade of 9.82258065 was the best among defenders and fourth overall, behind Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson -- and that signal-caller from Green Bay.

It must be something in the cheese.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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