J.J. Watt Dominated in 2012 Despite Injury, so How Good Can He Be When Healthy?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 4, 2013

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt made opposing quarterbacks absolutely miserable in 2012.

He may have just been getting started, because as it turns out, while the 24-year-old was tearing up the NFL last year, he was doing it with only one good arm.

Watt, who led the National Football League with 20.5 sacks in 2012, told Texans All Access (via Nick Scurfield of the team's official website) that was the case a season ago, as the dislocated elbow he suffered before the season wasn't "right" all season long:

In the beginning, it definitely affected me. All the ligaments in there were torn, they were all gone, so they had to have time to recover and regroup. So obviously, I wasn’t at full strength. The brace helped a lot, but it was more of a mental thing, getting over the thought process of knowing that it was injured and making sure that I could still have confidence in it. As the season went on, I got more and more confidence in it and obviously, it didn’t hinder me too much; I had some success out there. But [I’m] looking forward to a 100 percent full healthy season.

That scream you just heard that sounded like a six-year-old girl? That was the quarterbacks in the AFC South picturing what a "100-percent-full-healthy season" would look like for Watt.

It's a well-founded scream, too.

After all, we're talking about the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year here. Watt's 20.5 sacks a season ago tied for the fourth-best single-season total. His 16 passes defensed were an NFL record for a defensive lineman.

Watt also racked up more than 80 tackles and forced four fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, his 30 quarterback hurries ranked third in the NFL. His 25 quarterback hits didn't just lead the NFL, but they were also more than twice as many as the next closest player.

If that was with one arm, I'd hate to see what he can do with two.

Generally speaking, over the past several seasons, whenever a player has put up a huge sack total one season, the next campaign saw that player backslide significantly.

In fact, of the top-five players in the NFL in sacks in 2011, only one (Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers) saw his sack numbers increase in 2012. Every one of the other players not only saw their sack totals drop, but drop substantially.


2011 Sack Total

2012 Sack Total

Jared Allen



DeMarcus Ware



Jason Babin



Jason Pierre-Paul



Granted, last year's freefall was something of an aberration, but it just highlights that, in many cases, players that post gaudy statistical seasons regress the next year, whether due to an injury or another cause.

However, I can't remember a case (at least in recent history) where a player posted his inflated sack numbers while he was injured, as Watt did last year.

That injury may even have been a blessing in disguise of sorts. With one arm at less-than-full strength, Watt was forced to find a way to compensate for the injury. Technique and guile had to replace brute strength and athleticism, at least to an extent.

The result was a phenomenal season that established Watt as one of the elite defensive ends in the NFL, but the third-year pro told Scurfield there's still plenty of room for improvement in his game:

There’s a couple sacks that I missed where I need to get the quarterback down. There’s a couple things in the run game that I want to clean up a little bit as far as like sometimes playing double teams and things like that. And then my pass rush—my pass rush can still get so much better, just working on a combination of moves, working on setting up moves and different things like that. There’s a lot to my game that I can improve on, and I’m really looking forward to making that next step this year.

Yes, you read that right. Watt thinks he can actually get better, and he's looking forward to taking the "next step" in 2013.

Those quarterbacks just started screaming again.