The PFF 101, No. 1: J.J. Watt
In 2012 J.J. Watt was a sensation. For much of the season he was chasing the all-time single-season sack record as well as posting a ridiculous number of batted passes. He was the obvious and consensus Defensive Player of the Year after having one of the best seasons the game has ever seen.
Believe it or not he was better this season.
He almost broke the PFF grading system in 2012, becoming the first player to get into triple-digits for a full season’s work, but this year he added ten full grading points to finish with at+111.6. What difference does 10 grading points make? Well that difference alone would have placed him 20th at his position for the season, ahead of guys like Ray McDonald.
He didn’t get the same eye-popping base statistics as 2012, earning only 11 sacks and six batted passes, and his team struggled to just two wins on the season, but make no mistake, J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL.
He showed a devastating rate of pass-rush pressure, earning 85 total pressures – a figure only bettered by Robert Quinn – and matched that performance against the run. Watt was moved around more by the Texans this year, spending time all across the line and proving to be just as tough to handle at 4-3 defensive end as he is in a 3-4.
Watt has a unique mix of strength, quickness, speed and moves that often leave offensive linemen grasping at air. He is the perfect player for any attacking one-gap system and seems to be only getting better.
Best Game: Week 12 vs. Jacksonville (+12.1)
In a microcosm of Watt and Houston’s season the Texans lost this game 13-6 but Watt was virtually unstoppable. He had just a single sack, but six knockdowns of the quarterback. Every time he made a tackle it was a defensive stop and his tally of nine was four better than anybody else on the Houston defense, accounting for almost a third of the defense’s total.
It’s not just the stats Watt collects that makes him so good, it’s the speed at which he makes plays. His sack came in under 2.5 seconds with a simple rip move on RT Austin Pasztor. Later in the game he notched a knockdown of Chad Henne in under two seconds with a swim move that left LT Cameron Bradfield just trying to tackle him to save his quarterback.
Key Stat: Generated nine more pressures than in 2012, on 56 fewer pass rushes.
This stat helps explain how Watt’s PFF grade was better this year despite the base stats appearing to drop off. The difference between ten sacks over the course of a season in which Watt plays around 1,000 snaps is just 1% of the plays he was on the field. Can you really tell much from looking at that small a sample size?
When you include hits and hurries into the equation you are looking at a far bigger group of plays. Despite fewer opportunities to rush the passer this year, Watt actually notched more total pressures (including sacks). He refined his game even further and added to his pass-rush arsenal. The fact that he is able to produce all across the defensive line only increases his value to a defense. Inside he is too quick for interior linemen to cope with and out on the edge he has too much power for offensive tackles used to dealing with smaller edge rushers.
Watt is one of the most devastating pass-rushers in the entire league, and it’s easy to forget that he is primarily an interior lineman. The rate at which he is generating pressure (once every 6.1 rushes) is akin to Dwight Freeney in his prime, and only Robert Quinn is topping that rate at the moment.
To add to his legend, he is every bit as good against the run as he is the pass, primarily because he plays it in exactly the same way – shoots into the backfield and rains down destruction on the play.
Here at PFF we occasionally get accused of spending too much time talking about Watt, but his numbers and grading are just too crazy not to. We are witnessing the career of one of the league’s all-time greats unfold in front of our eyes, and that deserves all the comment it’s receiving. J.J. Watt was the best player of 2013 and rightfully tops the PFF 101.
10. Marshawn Lynch, SEA
9. Andrew Whitworth, CIN
8. Lesean McCoy, PHI
7. Evan Mathis, PHI
6. Richard Sherman, SEA
5. Lavonte David, TB
4. Gerald McCoy
3. Peyton Manning, DEN
2. Robert Quinn, STL
1. J.J. Watt
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