When talking about the most recognizable players in the NFL, one of the names to immediately comes to mind is Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. And for good reason. Watt is not only the best defensive end in the league, but also arguably the best defender in the business.
Since 2012, Watt has grabbed the attention of the NFL by the horns, with 110 QB hits from 2012-2014 (as of Week 6, 2014). He has 33 passes deflected (unheard of for a defensive end), 40.5 sacks, 2 First Team All Pro honors, and 1 Defender of the Year award.
Many around the league are making the case that J.J. Watt is the MVP frontrunner so far in 2014, citing these stats among others as reasoning. So does Watt deserve to be MVP?
The answer is no.
Now let’s get this out of the way before I cite why Watt should not be MVP; my opinion on this has nothing to do with the body of work Watt has put in. I’m not writing about if he’s overrated, he’s a product of his system, or he simply isn’t good enough to be voted MVP.
In fact, Watt is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen play the game. He can fool any offensive line and knock your favorite team’s quarterback down in a hurry. He not only has the strength, but also a wide ceiling. Watt can catch passes in the end zone, return forced fumbles and interceptions for touchdowns, swat passes, and pressure a quarterback with ease.
J.J. Watt is a once in a lifetime player. Not just a defender, but as a whole in football. He has the strength and athleticism not seen often in NFL history. He has the intimidation needed to scare an offense as well.
So with all this being said, you’d think it would make a case for a defender like Watt to win MVP, right? What’s the problem?
That’s just it; J.J. Watt is a defender.
In today’s era of football, the quarterback position impacts the field the most. We’re seeing guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Matthew Stafford to a lesser extent throw for 4,500+ yards and 40+ TD all the time.
I compare the quarterback position to a scientific experiment. The quarterback is the control variable that controls how a defense reads the offense, while the defense is dependent on an offense starting a play.
Quarterbacks like the ones mentioned above are often able to lead comebacks and put their team ahead in a position to succeed more than any other position, especially in today’s pass happy era.
Of course, there was a time where quarterbacks weren’t almost always guaranteed to win the MVP award. In the middle of the 20th century, for example, runningbacks often controlled the game, so guys like Jim Brown, OJ Simpson, Walter Peyton, and Jim Taylor were able to have years where they won MVP awards.
But carrying into the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and the 2010s, the passing game evolved, quarterbacks began airing the ball out 20+ yards more and more often, and teams became more and more dependent on quarterbacks to put them in a position to succeed. Which is why separate awards such as offensive and defensive player of the year exist, as well as Pro Bowl honors and First Team All Pro.
Which brings us to J.J. Watt. No one is denying his greatness, and the impact he has on the field. The problem is his impact isn’t as big as a quarterback’s. For example, the Texans gave up 33 points to the Indianapolis Colts at home (and lost) despite an excellent game from Watt, in which he had 7 tackles (4 solo), 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 deflected passes, 4 QB hits, and a fumble return for a touchdown. So it’s clear that one great defender can only impact a team so much.
Finally, a defender has won the MVP award only twice. Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won the award in 1971, and legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor won it in 1986. It’s been a 28-year gap since a defender last won the MVP award, and as stated above, it’s nearly impossible in this pass happy era.
Having said this, there is a chance J.J. Watt could (deservingly) win the MVP award. He already caught a TD pass on offense this year, and if he gets a bigger role as a tight end, he’ll have a bigger impact on the Texans success.
And if we’re talking Watt for MVP, he’ll need jaw dropping record setting stats. JJ is currently on pace for 16 deflected passes and 53 QB hits (a single season record for Watt). Watt does have a blocked kick, an interception, and 2 fumble recoveries. It’s a definite possibility he could end up winning.
But as we’ve seen since 1987, it’s usually the quarterback that wins the MVP award. If I were to start a football team, the first thing I’d do is pick a quarterback. Having someone NFL ready like Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, or Andrew Luck will go a long way, because the main component of a successful team is there. Then, you build around him, which includes a defense.
Again, this isn’t meant to diss J.J. Watt in any way. He deserves all of the praise he’s getting, and then some. And like I stated earlier, he’s a once in a lifetime defender. But not even the best defender looks to be able to win MVP. Guys such as Philip Rivers (leads the league in completion percentage, passer rating, yards per attempt, and QBR), Andrew Luck (leads the league in yards and touchdowns), Peyton Manning (orchestrates the best offense in the league, deadly accurate), Aaron Rodgers (still throws the best deep ball in the business), and even DeMarco Murray (best running back so far) are competing with him, so it’s a bit of a reach to say he’ll win MVP.
Then again, he’s J.J. Watt. Anything’s possible.