NEW YORK (Jan. 3, 2007) -- DeMeco Ryans came into the NFL as Houston's second choice to bolster its defense. He leaves his first pro year as The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The linebacker, chosen at the top of the second round of last April's draft -- 32 spots after the Texans made defensive end Mario Williams the first overall selection -- was a runaway winner of the award. Ryans led the league in solo tackles with 126, and his 156 total tackles were 33 more than the next-best rookie, Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims.
In fact, no rookie in the last 20 years had more tackles than Ryans, who was an All-American at Alabama in 2005. And Ryans had more tackles than any of the other five linebackers who won the award this decade, including Brian Urlacher and Shawne Merriman.
"It's always nice to be touted as one of the best and have a big-time stat, but I credit that to the other 10 guys that are around me on defense," Ryans said. "We wouldn't be talking about me without those other 10 guys out there."
Well, we might be, because Ryans came into training camp, was moved to the middle and almost immediately established himself as the premier rookie defender on the roster. Better -- by far -- than Williams.
And Ryans never let up.
"It wasn't a big 'Wow' moment to me and there wasn't any nervousness or anything like that. I was comfortable from the time I began," he said. "Nothing really just shocked me going through the year. I played in a big game atmosphere in college, so I was used to that. I knew what the competition level would be like. Nothing really surprised me."
The ease with which Ryans won the award might have been surprising. He received 36 of the 50 votes by a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.
Second was Chicago end Mark Anderson, who was Ryans' teammate at Alabama, with five votes. Green Bay linebacker A. J. Hawk was next with four, while Cleveland LB Kamerion Wimbley got two votes.
Williams, Cincinnati DB Johnathan Joseph and Baltimore DB Dawan Landry each received one.
Gary Kubiak, in his first head coaching job, was concerned about moving Ryans to the leadership role in the middle of a revamped unit. He shouldn't have worried.
"I knew he was a special kid when he was here through OTAs and stuff," Kubiak said of offseason workouts. "Just how smart he was, and the coaches were coming back saying we hit it big on this kid, he's going to be something.
"I think when you really knew he was fixing to be a great player was about midway through training camp when we were in meetings and having a problem at (middle) linebacker and started having a conversation. We said: 'Let's just put the kid in there and go.' You say, 'Well it's a lot to handle, it's the whole defense. We may set him back. We don't want to do that.'
"We made that decision and within about a two-week period you knew that he was going to be fine with it."
More than fine -- the best of all defensive rookies.
He is the first Texan to win an individual award since Houston entered the league in 2002.
Merriman won the award last year.