Dominant J.J. Watt collects his just reward

During Super Bowl week in New Orleans, I don’t believe I encountered anyone who didn’t think J.J. Watt would win the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.

At least two of the others who had big years -- Charles Tillman of the Bears and Aldon Smith of the 49ers -- had big spurts.

But even when he wasn’t dragging down the quarterback, Watt was a consistent impact player, causing offenses to plan and account for him on every snap of the Houston Texans season.

Despite those plans, blockers and quarterbacks often returned to the huddle shaking their heads over their inability to minimize his impact.

Watt is indeed the defensive player of the year, and missed being the unanimous choice by just one vote, collecting 49 nods from a panel of 50 sportswriters selected by the Associated Press.

Reminders of just what Watt did from ESPN Stats & Information:

  • He led NFL with 20.5 sacks this season (tied for the sixth-most all-time). He became one of nine players to register at least 20 sacks since sacks began to be recorded in 1982.

  • He batted or tipped 16 passes this season, most in the NFL

  • He had 24 tackles for a loss.

  • His sacks plus tackles for a loss cost opponents 200.5 yards.

  • Watt led the NFL with 36.5 dropbacks disrupted (sacks, passes defended, batted balls and interceptions). Seattle’s Richard Sherman was a distant second with 23.0.

  • Watt disrupted 5.7 percent of the drop-backs he faced. In the past three seasons, no other player posted a number higher than 4.3 percent (Jared Allen in 2011).

On radio row Thursday, he told me his goals will be even bigger in 2013. It'll be hard to top what he did in 2012, but he came close to some outrageous goals in his second season and there could be plenty more ahead.

UPDATE: From the Texans' news release about Watt's win comes this, from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Jan. 10.

“He should be unanimous, I would think. He’s just a great player and he’s had the best year ever. He’s had the absolute best year any defensive lineman has ever had. And I had Elvin Bethea, who’s in the Hall of Fame, and he had some great years, and Bruce Smith had some great years, and Reggie White had some great years, but they didn’t make that many tackles, that many tackles for loss, that many knockdowns and that many sacks in one year. Nobody has done that, so I can’t say enough great things about him because he’s a great player.”