Rush to judgment was off mark on '06 No. 1 pick

By Michael Wilbon
Friday, September 17, 2010

You don't hear so much any more that the Houston Texans made the biggest mistake in the world by drafting Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush four years ago. Okay, some Houstonians will never get over the fact that the Texans didn't take Vince Young, the hometown kid who had just won a national championship. But when the Texans visit Washington on Sunday, their defense will be anchored by Williams, a defensive end who is coming off the best game of his career: an eight-knockdown performance of Peyton Manning in a rare Texans victory over the Colts.

None of the three is on a collision course with the Hall of Fame at this point. Bush, even though he now has a Super Bowl ring, is certainly not the defense-wrecking player he was at Southern Cal and doesn't look like he's ever going to be an every-down back in the NFL. And now, of course, there's the embarrassment of becoming the first Heisman Trophy winner ever to give back the award, and the scandal that surrounds that whole affair.

Young has led his team to the playoffs, and some believe he's in the calmest period of his adult life and, as a result, a threat to put the Tennessee Titans in serious contention this year. But the meltdown of a couple of years ago and how it could have ruined the Titans is still fresh in the memory.

Williams, meantime, has had no controversy of any kind. If part of the reason the Texans chose Williams over Bush was the desire to avoid drama - and the Bush scandal was beginning to mushroom even when he was in college - then the club's executives ought to be ecstatic. Williams's teammates like him. He's a weight room guy, a worker, rock-solid. He's not consistently great on Sundays; in fact, some weeks his coaches have pulled him aside, particularly before a big game, and told him, "Mario, we need more from you this week." Even so, Williams has had enough impact to be a two-time Pro Bowler.

They certainly got "more" out of him Sunday against Manning and the Colts, enough for the Redskins coaches to be fretting this week about how to help Trent Williams keep Mario away from Donovan McNabb. The Redskins certainly must be preparing for a different Mario Williams than the one Mike Sellers pushed all over the field the last time the two teams met.

Certainly, it's a different scenario than the one that greeted Williams on draft day in 2006, when he was booed by fans in Houston and greeted by headlines such as the one on an ESPN.com column that read, "Snubbing Bush a Texans-size blunder."

It's impossible to not compare the two now as much as scouts did then. Williams has 35 sacks in three seasons and other than a rather infamous speeding ticket awhile back, has stayed out of the spotlight. Bush, whom the Saints seem to depend on a lot less than the Texans rely on Williams, is the story of the week for all the wrong reasons.

Returning the Heisman before it was taken from him was a savvy public relations move. It saved Bush from even more humiliation, not that it was as "noble" as USC Athletic Director Pat Haden believes. The notion that Bush's sins are any greater than that of, oh, 25 or so other Heisman winners is amusing to me, although returning the award means Bush is probably now one of the two most infamous Heisman winners ever. Another former USC back, a Mr. Simpson, holds the No. 1 spot, probably forever.

The irony is that before this week, if you'd asked me who had the most memorable career, best season and greatest moment of the three players, I'd have picked Young easily. Long after you forget (usually) who won the Heisman, you remember a play such as Young running into the corner of the end zone to win the national championship by beating Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.

That's why Houstonians, tired of David Carr by then, were so hell-bent on the team picking Young to play quarterback for the Texans. And I suppose if the draft were held today, whether we know nothing or everything we know now, I'd still take Young first in that draft. Young, while he's never going to be a classic passer, can lead the Titans to a Super Bowl this season. There's a big difference between passer and quarterback, and Young is indeed the latter.

But it's not bad having a quarterback-wrecker either. If you ask me to choose between Bush's situational excellence - and he did make some tremendous runs and catches for the Saints last season en route to a championship - or Williams's ability, even if inconsistently realized, to smother Peyton Manning . . . I think I'm going to take the guy who can harass quarterbacks. And at 25 years old, Williams can still do that for another eight or nine seasons, presuming reasonable health.

Whatever Williams hasn't become yet, it's obvious that anybody who thought he was a bad pick or the wrong pick relative to Bush, was wrong. Houston has its pass rusher and a pretty darned good quarterback in Matt Schaub, who threw for an NFL-best 4,770 yards last season. And if Williams can have four to six more games the remainder of this season like he had last week, the Texans likely will not only hold their own against the Colts but also get into position to make the playoffs for the first time ever.

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