Lately there have been a few articles about JJ Watt, primarily due to Wade and Cushing's assertions that JJ could be the best defensive player ever. Inevitably there are comments from those that think JJ's accomplishments in 2012 weren't that big of a deal, and that he didn't show up in the big games. I would normally just chalk those comments up to Broncos, Pats, 49ers and Lions fans, but let's look a little closer for grins.
Full disclosure, I don't have access to, nor am I willing to pay for advanced stats, so I'm using the plain ole boring stat numbers where I could find them. I am also not willing to put a ton of research into this, so these are just the convenient statistics... Without further ado.
I first wanted to take a look at JJ's stats as compared to other defensive linemen. While he's most often compared to Von Miller and Aldon Smith, he should really compared to players like Michael Bennett and Geno Atkins. (although the comparison is still not totally valid) This follows my fantasy football drafting theory, that you should look at the incremental improvement, or value compared to the next best player at that position. In this case I'm looking only at D linemen as they're labeled by ESPN stats.
Total Tackles = Watt 81 (NFL Rank 85th) - Next closest D-lineman = Lamarr Houston 69
Solo Tackles = Watt 69 (63) - Next closest D-lineman = Calais Campbell 50
Sacks = Watt 20.5 (1) - Next closest D-lineman = Cameron Wake/Geno Atkins 12.5
Tackles for Loss = Watt 42 (1) - Next closest D-lineman = Geno Atkins/Michael Bennett 18
QB Hits = Watt 43 (1) - Next closest D-lineman = Ndsdlfjsdl Suh 32
Passes Def = Watt 16 (8) - Next closest D-lineman = Corey Liuget 9
Forced Fumbles = Watt 4 (10) - Next closest D-lineman = Charles Johnson 7
So those stats tell quite a compelling story. Watt was consistently in the backfield making stops. He had, on average, 42% more of each of these stats than the next closest d-lineman. (Includes the FF, which he wasn't the highest on) This shows the total game of Watt, and his dominance compared to the rest of the league. Most of these stat categories are led by LB's and DB's, not linemen... He was a monster against the run, which I think is a fact many outsiders aren't fully aware of.
I'm sure there are still those that say other players had better seasons, like Ashley Fox who thought Miller was the better player. There are also those that say Watt didn't show up all year. I think these are people who don't watch a lot of football, except on Sportscenter. They don't realize how difficult it is to play on the D-line in the NFL. You may be dominant against some teams when they try to play you with a single blocker, but when you're game-planned against, and double/triple teamed, it's difficult to amass a stat line. Trust me, JJ Watt made a difference, even when he didn't get a sack... In order to put this one to bed, I looked at the game splits for Watt, and the 3 closest DPOY candidates, Miller, Aldon Smith, and Geno Atkins. All fantastic players. The idea here is to see how often they were "shut out", or kept off the stat sheet.
First, the most obvious, Games Without a Sack:
Watt 4, Miller 4, Smith 6, Atkins 6
Nothing amazing here, but shows the consistency of Miller and Watt to get to the quarterback. Watt was only shut out against the Ravens (who game-planned against him, allowing others to shine), Bears (same), Pats (same), and Colts (few almost sacks here). Smith on the other hand, got 5.5 of his sacks in one game against a late season Bears O-line that looked like they were treading water. I watched that game and he was gifted at least 3 of those. He shouldn't have even been in the running.
Tackles aren't a great stat for this comparison, but another stat I liked are stuffs. Watt blew them all away with this one...
Watt 23 (3 games with 0), Miller 14 (7 games with 0), Smith 3... (13 games with 0), Atkins 6 (11 games with 0)
Again, this just shows the shear amount of negative plays Watt was imposing on his opponents. Atkins was impressive for a DT, and Miller is a star on the outside, but no one had as much of an impact on the offense as JJ Watt did this year. And if this wasn't enough, he's probably setting some record on levels of nice guy in the off-season. Others may give more to charities, but what's most impressive to me, is how often JJ takes time out of his day to help out others, mostly those he doesn't even know... This has to be a record for individual acts of kindness in one off-season. Where are the advanced stats on this? Let's not even get into the Berry children, that's saintly. So even if we disagree on his on-field performance, you cannot argue against his off-field performance.
In summary, you can try to argue that he wasn't the best player in the NFL, but that's only for hours/minutes at a time. Much like Tiger Woods in his prime, I was most impressed with JJ Watt by his consistency, both in run and pass defense. I don't think he'll match these numbers next year unfortunately. A few things could happen. The rest of the d-line could step it up and actually add to the pass rush, which eventually would open things up for JJ, but not right away. Or, JJ will still be the only one getting consistent pressure, resulting in a lot more double and triple teams. Either way, you can't help but be sure he's going to have a pronounced effect on the offenses gameplan, and even more on peoples lives here in Houston.
Thank you JJ, for one of the greatest season's ever.