Friday, June 27, 2008

Set Pieces: Mario Williams's Third Round KO

“It looks like the dumbest sports decision of the past 25 years…and that’s before we find out Reggie Bush’s ceiling.”

- Bill Simmons on Houston selecting Mario Williams at #1 in 2006

Height: 6’7”
Weight: 295 lbs

40 yard dash time: 4.66 seconds

Bench Press: 35 reps

Vertical Leap: 40.5 inches

NCAA Career: 175 tackles and 25.5 Sacks in 36 games (while maintaining a 3.68 GPA)

- What we knew about Mario Williams before he played a single NFL down

Free will is both something we cherish and something with which we’ll never be fully comfortable. On the one hand, we love the idea of free will as an abstract literary concept, allowing us to set the plot of our individual stories, thumbing our noses at the things we “should” do in favor of that which inspires our passions. Yet this abstract love affair is something we are less ready to accept as applied to reality. One need only look at the way we react to people acting “out of character,” or our notorious aversion to change to see how unexpected occurrences and choices rub us the wrong way. This was certainly the case in the 2006 NFL draft, when, with Reggie “The New Gale Sayers” Bush and Vince “Quarterback Revolution #3394” Young available, the Houston Texans selected DE Mario Williams with the first overall pick. The backlash was immediate and overwhelming. At no point were any of the positives mentioned (Williams had a stellar college career, he would have CERTAINLY gone second if not picked first, and HUMAN BODIES THAT BIG ARE NOT MEANT TO DO WHAT WILLIAMS’S DOES). Instead, fans booed mercilessly at the draft upon hearing his name. ESPN the Magazine ran a cover story basically depicting Williams’s future career as a sad story rooted in inevitable disappointment. Houston sports columnist Richard Justice ran a column inviting fans to create disparaging nicknames for Williams after his THIRD GAME!!! An average first season (though 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 47 tackles seems better than that given the fact he consistently faced double teams as a rookie) only pushed Williams further under the wash of negative press, letting the negativity wash over him and allowing all of us to congratulate one another on being right about our particular NFL worldview.

“Let’s be clear: Bypassing Bush smacks of stupidity.”

- Houston Columnist Richard Justice on Mario Williams’s selection.

14 sacks (tied for 3rd in the league), 59 tackles, 2 forced fumbles.

- Mario Williams’s 2007 stats.

All of this makes Williams’s rise to power (combined with Bush and Young’s shaky starts) one of the most satisfying stories in the league, and one that is likely to come to some form of fruition this season. Last year, the Houston Texans posted an 8-8 record (their first non-losing season ever) that was significantly better than the numbers indicated (the AFC South is still a murderers’ row of talent). It’s worth noting the role of the defense in that improvement, particularly since Williams’s joining the team. In that time, the team has gone from the 2nd worst defense in the league, allowing 364 yards and almost 27 points a game, to 24th in the league and allowing 24 points a game (and if that seems unimpressive, I remind you that they saw Peyton Manning and the Jacksonville Running Back Wrecking Crew TWICE last year). All the while, Williams, who was still facing the same gameplanning and double teams he’d seen the year before, posted one of the best season of any defensive lineman in the league…and he did it in his second year…at a position that takes significantly longer to learn than, say, running back. This year, fellow young talent DT Amobi Okoye enters his second year, having put his own rookie struggles behind him. Additionally, elite CB Dunta Robinson returns to make quarterbacks have to wait that much longer for their targets to get open, and standout third year LB Demeco Ryans, who formerly served only to highlight Williams’s failure, becomes another year older and wiser, making the defense around Williams even more talented. The end result of all of this is a set of conditions that seems ideal for a pass rusher who is only getting more effective (and whose physical gifts are finally being paired with veteran knowledge), giving Williams more time to find the best path into the backfield.

“[Texans owner Bob McNair] knows, we know, everyone knows, this was a bum deal all around for the folks in Houston.”

- SI Columnist Dr. Z on the Williams selection, giving the Texans draft a grade of D

Reggie Bush Career: 1,146 yards rushing, 1,159 yards receiving, 3.7 yards per carry average.

Vince Young Career: 21 TD, 30 INT, QB Rating of 69

- Career numbers for the two "sure things" drafted right behind Williams.

We at TiT were wary of posting those numbers, because we like both Young and Bush, and we think that properly utilized their performance could grow into their own incredible and unique talents…something Mario Williams has already begun to do. Considering teams have been preparing for him since before he stepped into the league, is there any reason to think that there will be a huge difference in the resistance he meets or its success against him this year? Isn’t that what the whole “point” of Mario Williams was supposed to be, that you can’t stop a human being capable of doing what Williams can do at his size? In a league that has been called modern day gladiator combat, isn't having the most physically dominating gladiator worth something more than constant derision? Watching the mainstream media backtrack on their crucifixion of Williams during his first year was satisfying not so much because it was some great underdog tale of redemption (Williams was never, EVER an underdog, despite the negativity). Instead, it was fun to watch because it was as though the media had finally come to grips with just how incredible a talent Williams had always been, like the lion tamer who pokes or prods a lion the wrong way one time too many. If the Texans do finally achieve legitimacy (and we think they can go as far as competing for a playoff spot this season if Schaub-Johnson looks as good as it did last season), then Mario Williams will have played no small part in that achievement. Considering all the growth happening around Williams, watching what he will be able to do with his unmatched natural ability now that he’s been given the tools and the knowledge to use it more freely will be one of this upcoming season’s most intriguing developments, and the opportunity for Mario Williams to reclaim through sheer force the status that was prematurely stripped from him before ever playing in the NFL will be one of this season’s most satisfying stories to follow.


Jersey said...

/awe struck

Clap (pause) Clap (Pause) Clap

/close jaw

Legitimately, a great post.

hank/naples said...

You are by far the most fun, informative and easy to read blog on the 'net. I look forward to reading you every day. Big thanks.

Jason said...

Wow. Thank you for this. I hate ESPN for many things, but the seemingly daily "Reggie Bush is Gayle Sayers but Better" 10 minute lovefest story on every show every day is particularly egregious.
Mario has and will prove worthy of that pick.

James C. said...

Fan freaking Tastic!

We State fans have always known Super Mario would get the job done. He's a beast, and someone the league will not forget soon before he's done.

Tom said...

Who the heck ever described Vince Young as anything resembling a "sure thing" heading into the 06 draft? He played in a college offense of a kind you won't see in the NFL, didn't have to make NFL reads, had hardly ever taken a snap from center, and had a weird-looking throwing motion. I'm a Titans fan, and advocated they draft him at #3, but, like many other people, was well aware of the possibility that he could be an enormous bust at the NFL level.

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