In my Most Valuable Player article, I laid out why JJ Watt should not win MVP over Aaron Rodgers, as the Packers would undoubtedly be a worse team if they switched Rodgers for Watt and the Texans would undoubtedly be better if they switched Watt for Rodgers. However, Watt not winning Defensive Player of the Year would be an equally big travesty as Watt winning MVP. It’s hard for a single defensive player to fit the definition of valuable as well as a quarterback, but Watt has still been the best player in football in each of the past 3 seasons.
He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ top rated player in each of the last 3 seasons. Those ratings aren’t necessarily meant to be compared across positions, but Watt has been so much better than everyone else that it’s a fairly safe assessment to make. With Watt over the past 3 seasons, we’ve witnessed a stretch of dominance by a player that hasn’t been seen since Reggie White’s prime at best. This season was arguably the best of the bunch for Watt, and his rating on Pro Football Focus reflected that, though the ratings are not meant to be compared across seasons either, which is why I said arguably.
Justin Houston gets some mention for this award and he actually led the NFL with 23 sacks, while Watt “only” had 21. Houston was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, but he didn’t dominate the position anywhere near as much as Watt dominated the 3-4 defensive end position. Houston’s sack total is very impressive, but Watt’s 21 are even more impressive considering he plays a position where it’s tougher to get to the quarterback. Also, while Houston had just 8 quarterback hits, Watt had 44. No one else had more than 21 in the NFL at any position.
Watt added 54 quarterback hurries, which is actually less than Houston’s 56, and in terms of overall pass rush productivity (sacks + .75 hits + .75 hurries divided by pass rush snaps), Houston was actually the better of the two at 15.7 as compared to 15.0, but, again, Watt plays a much tougher position to get to the quarterback from. No 3-4 defensive end other than Watt was better than 9.7 in pass rush productivity.
At 3-4 outside linebacker, Houston wasn’t even the best at his position as Brandon Graham led the way among eligible players, posting a 17.7 on more limited snaps. Twenty 3-4 outside linebackers were more productive pass rushers than the 2nd best 3-4 defensive end. Watt also had a league leading 10 pass deflections, which pass rush productivity doesn’t even take into account. Houston only had 5 and the 2nd best player in that aspect (Clay Matthews) only had 6.
Also, while Watt’s rating on Pro Football Focus was more than 2.5 times better than the 2nd best 3-4 defensive end (Sheldon Richardson, who had a great season in his own right), Houston didn’t even double the next best 3-4 outside linebacker. Watt’s position is also more important to run defense than Houston. Watt wasn’t nearly as good at his position against the run as he was as a pass rusher, but he still ranked 4th in that aspect this season.
The Texans’ defense finished 10th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential at 70.62%, despite not having a single player other than Watt finish in the top-10 at his position. Only Kareem Jackson finished in the top-15 at his position on the Texans’ defense other than Watt. Kansas City’s defense was a little better, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 70.29% rate, 7th in the NFL, but Houston had Tamba Hali opposite him (13th among 3-4 outside linebackers) and Sean Smith at cornerback (5th among cornerbacks. Both players had a fantastic season, but this is Watt’s award.