Duane Vermeulen's toughness would have been his biggest asset if he had become a defensive end.
Defensive captain Duane Vermeulen gives the Texans a pre-game pep talk at NRG Stadium in Houston.
OK, OK … Duane’s never been to Texas, but if NFL scouts had spotted him as a junior at the Pumas in 2005, could he have developed into the pass-rushing force that Houston defensive end JJ Watt is?
End Zone’s verdict: Yes and no.
It’s unlikely that Vermeulen could match Watt for athleticism. Watch Watt’s workout at the 2011 NFL combine where he produced 34 reps of 100kg bench press, a 94cm vertical leap, a 3.05m broad jump, a time of 6.88 seconds in the three-cone drill and a 4.21 time in the 20-yard (18.2m) shuttle.
Most of Vermeulen’s numbers in those categories are a national secret because rugby – run by the dinosaurs of the amateur era – is petrified of what might happen if fans actually know how the game works. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the Nelspruit prodigy would come up short in a comparison.
In 48 games over three seasons, Watt has been credited with 36.5 quarterback sacks, 217 tackles and an incredible 27 passes defended. The latter stat inspired the mantle 'JJ Swat' as the Wisconsin native made full use of his 30cm hands to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.
It’s all very impressive, but there’s one area where Watt couldn’t possibly match Vermeulen: toughness.
The Bok No 8 is a warrior in the true sense of the word. He may not be the most nimble back-row forward ever to roam in cover defence, but he just might be the toughest.
Watt is known as a relentless pass rusher who scares the M&Ms out of quarterbacks. Can you imagine what kind of fear an unsmiling Vermeulen, impervious to pain or fatigue, would instil with his never-say-die work ethic?
And where Vermeulen comes up short in speed and agility, he would challenge Watt for power output, especially since – in American football – the No 8 would find himself in the gym more than in running shoes, which would see him stack on the 15kg needed to match Watt’s weight.
Vermeulen would also only play 16 games per season in the NFL, as opposed to between 30 and 35 in rugby, which would ensure that he is in peak physical condition every time he put his hand in the turf and set his sights on the quarterback.
Oh, and he’d get cash money. Watt is on a four-year, $11.2-million contract, so he’ll earn more this season ($3.5-million) than Vermeulen will during the course of his entire professional career.