Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
It should surprise absolutely nobody to find out that our pick as the league’s outstanding defender for the 2012 NFL season is J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. In the past two seasons Justin Smith demonstrated just how utterly destructive a defensive end can be in a 3-4 scheme, but from the very first week of this season Watt has taken that dominance to a whole new level that before the season you might not have thought possible.
As we reach the climax to the season, Watt has become the first player to earn a single-season grade of +100.0 or more, a grade that no 3-4 defensive end had previously gotten even half way toward in a regular season. Previously a position that was perceived to be all about run defense and setting up other players by occupying blockers, Watt has followed Smith’s example and taken the theory that a 3-4 end can be the most disruptive player on the defense to new heights.
The base stats are there for all to see but they are worth repeating: as a 3-4 end he led the NFL in sacks (both by the NFL’s count and by our own count), he added 24 QB hits to those 21 sacks, batted 15 passes, recorded 72 defensive stops and missed only two tackles all season. The unbelievable level of his play and, more to the point, the consistency of his utter dominance, was nothing short of breathtaking.
The only time this season that Watt was ‘slowed’ — in relative terms — was in Chicago during Week 10 when conditions under foot, and a concerted effort by the Bears to slow him down, led to his lowest single game grade of the season of +1.9. Even then he still managed to record three pressures (a hit and two hurries, respectable numbers for most 3-4 defensive ends) and a pair of stops in the run game. For the rest of the season he graded below +5.0 only twice more, and you start to see the context there when you consider that in Smith’s ground-breaking 2010 and 2011 campaigns he graded above +5.0 only four times in each regular season.
This season was, simply put, dominance on a level that we have never seen before — outside of a couple of players that we are about to talk about. Watt was equally destructive as a run defender and as a pass rusher. His 76 total quarterback pressures are bettered only by Cameron Wake (87), Von Miller (86) and Geno Atkins (78), while his Run Stop Percentage of 17.1 is the best in the league, even beating that of rookie tackling machines Lavonte David (14.6%) and Bobby Wagner (14.4%) among defenders playing at least 200 snaps of run defense.
By any measure that you want to take to the season that Watt has just put forth, there is no weakness. If what you want is highlight-reel plays, then as a disruptor against the pass (both in terms of getting his hands to the quarterback and to passes) he is unmatched. If you are looking for consistency, the only time his performance has dropped by his own exalted standards was in a rainstorm in the Midwest when he still played well by anyone else’s standards. If you want big performances against quality opposition, then look no further than his games against the likes of Baltimore (+4.5), Denver (+5.0), and New England (+6.1) as proof that he is anything but a player who simply takes advantage of favorable matchups. Whether you are a fan who likes to look at the numbers or look at the tape, the only conclusion we or you could possibly come to is that J.J. Watt is more than deserving of this year’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.