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Red Zone Play: J.J. Watt’s Fourth DPOY Campaign Starts Here

The picture is from the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. So many honors that it can be tough to keep them organized.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award Winner
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Just two short years ago, the very idea that J.J. Watt was about to take the field gave opposing offenses legit reason to lose sleep the night before the game. Then he got hurt… and hurt again. Now many see Watt as a wounded lion; someone you shouldn’t take your eye off of, but not someone to base your entire game plan around.

From all signs coming out of training camp, J.J. Watt is more than a lessened King of the Jungle. He’s a wily, wild animal ready to devour opposing offenses once more.

Pro Football Talk’s Peter King just ran a piece on potential Comeback Player of the Year candidates and Watt was firmly in the conversation.

Perhaps we don’t actually forget how great Watt was in his four top seasons, 2012 to 2015; we just fail to remember it. In his best four consecutive seasons rushing the passer, Lawrence Taylor had 63 sacks. All-time sack leader Bruce Smith had 55 in his best four years in a row. In 2012-15, Watt had 69 … and he wasn’t freed up to rush around the edge to get to the passer much. “Those ’14 and ’15 seasons were arguably two of the best seasons any player at any position has ever had,” said coach Bill O’Brien. “I remember we’re playing Baltimore in ’14, and they’re driving, and it’s late, and our guys are just exhausted. I remember J.J. looked over at me and basically said, If you give me a timeout here, I’ll get to Flacco. So I call time. We get a breather. That next play, J.J. strip-sacks Flacco. Game over. We win.”

O’Brien, in a break after a training camp practice, paused. “That’s what I’m seeing now, this summer. That’s the kind of play I’m seeing from him. There’s no reason he can’t do it again.”

If all the stars align, if everyone on the defense around Watt has “the best teammate they can be” kind of season, what’s truly mind-blowing is the single stat: 100 sacks.

No one, outside of a game of Madden, has ever hit 24 sacks in a single season. If there’s anyone in the game capable of it, it’s Watt. Why is that number so significant? Well, Watt currently has 76 career sacks. 24 more and he hits the century mark. It’s not that J.J. needs much more to cement his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but having the season sack record all to himself and becoming the only player in NFL history to win the Defensive Player of the Year four times might just merit his own wing in Canton, Ohio.

Before we go passing out gold jackets, J.J. will have to take some snaps on Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Will we get another nine tackle, two sack performance like we saw on Opening Day in 2015 (doubtful, as it’s an exhibition match-up)? Or could this game end up like last October’s nightmare against the Chiefs where Watt broke his leg? Chances are, since it’s just a preseason game, we’re going to end up with not much to go on but a few snaps. When you’ve gone this long without seeing meaningful playing time from the Houston Texans, reaching for desired highlight reel stuff is understandable.

So what do you think? Are we going to see a shockingly good J.J. Watt this year? A grizzled veteran who plays situationally to minimize wear and tear while maximizing his impact?

Or is J.J. Watt closer to the last year of Arian Foster’s Texans career, where all we get is hopes and dreams with no signs of what once was?

One thing is for sure: If you’ve been paying attention to Watt since he chose to walk on at Wisconsin, if there’s anyone who can beat the odds like he beats a tackle with poor technique, it’s J.J. Watt.