In just his second season in the NFL, J.J. Watt has already added a large piece to his trophy case. The Houston Texans defensive end capped off his sophomore season by winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award on Saturday.
Watt, who finished the season with 20.5 sacks and 16 pass breakups, won the award over a list of contenders which included Denver's Von Miller, San Francisco's Aldon Smith and Chicago's Charles Tillman.
Watt became in an immediate hit with the Houston Texans after being drafted No. 11 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. The future looked bright after he notched 5.5 sacks among his 48 total tackles as a rookie. Mario Williams sat most of the season for the Texans, and Watt held his own. It was in the Texans' final game of the season that he proverbially "arrived." In a Divisional Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011-12 NFL Playoffs, Watt was nearly unstoppable, racking up 12 tackles and a then career-high 2.5 sacks. After the season, Williams, a former No. 1 overall pick, was allowed to walk to the Buffalo Bills. Watt was ready to explode.
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MVP talk was in full swing by the Texans' Week 8 bye. Watt began the year with at least a partial sack in six straight games. He tied his career high with 2.5 sacks in a Week 3 win over the eventual No. 1-seed Denver Broncos. Even more impressively, he began knocking down passes at an alarming rate. Through seven games, he already had 10 pass breakups on the season. After notching three PBUs against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football in Week 5, Jon Gruden, in a moment of clarity, came up with "J.J. Swatt" and the name stuck. Watt was now an institution.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Watt's award-winning season is that he never slowed down. It's rare to see a player garner so much early-season hype and actually live up to it. Sixteen games is a long time. Adrian Peterson failed to rush for 100 yards in five of his first six games before nearly rewriting the record books. Peyton Manning had an ugly start to the year, throwing three interceptions in Week 2 before getting hot, then cooling off again late in the season. Watt, meanwhile, maintained pace. He ultimately finished the season with a league-leading 20.5 sacks. His 16 pass breakups tied Ed Reed among four others for 10th most in the NFL. The next non-safety or cornerback was London Fletcher with 11 PBUs. The next defensive lineman was Corey Liuget with nine.
Watt earned a Pro Bowl selection for his efforts, of course. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week twice, and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in December. He and Peterson were the only two unanimous selections for the AP's All-Pro team announced earlier this month.
Both Smith and Miller turned in phenomenal seasons, but both players lacked the kind of impact Watt had. All three players finished with high sack totals, but Watt had other dimensions to his game that Miller and Smith didn't. Watt finished the season with more solo tackles than either Smith or Miller had total tackles. The two also combined for 13 fewer pass deflections than Watt's 16. Miller finished the season with 28 tackles for loss while Smith totaled 18 during 2012. Both were impressive numbers and in the top five of the NFL. Watt, however, was in another stratosphere as he finished the season with 42 tackles for loss.
Watt is the first Houston Texan to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Baltimore's Terrell Suggs won the award last season.