With Darrelle Revis Out, Is J.J. Watt Favorite for Defensive Player of the Year?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst ISeptember 24, 2012

HOUSTON,TX - SEPTEMBER 09:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans is introduced to the crowd before playing the Miami Dolphins at Reliant Stadium on September 9, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

A year ago, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith put together a compelling case to be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. 

Early in 2012, a fellow 3-4 defensive end is making a strong argument to be the actual winner. 

Through three games, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is arguably leading the pack of DPOY candidates that now has no Darrelle Revis in the picture.

Revis, the New York Jets' three-time All-Pro cornerback, tore his ACL in the Jets' 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. He'll undergo surgery and miss the rest of the 2012 season, which should make Watt one of the overwhelming favorites to win the award. 

Watt's current statistics are hard to wrap your head around, especially considering that he's supposed to be mostly an afterthought as a 3-4 defensive end. In three games, he has 5.5 sacks (second in the NFL), three tackles for losses (sixth), five passes defensed (ninth, but first among defensive linemen) and one forced fumble. 

Revis, despite missing one game due to a concussion, had allowed just three catches with an interception in 2012. Some had predicted he could win the award this season. 

That prediction no longer holds any water, with Revis out for the season and Watt dominating in every facet of the game.

The Denver Broncos simply had no answer for him in the Texans' 30-25 win Sunday. 

Watt sacked Manning 2.5 times—after telling the Houston Chronicle this past week that Manning was on his "sack list"—and also had two tackles for losses in the running game. A holding call on him in the third quarter also wiped out what would have been a 36-yard gain. 

The 2.5 sacks elevated Watt to 5.5 for the season—his exact total from 16 games in 2011, his rookie year. 

The 6'6", 295-pounder is simply picking up where he left off last season. 

Consider Watt's last five games, which include the Texans' two playoff games from last January: nine sacks, six tackles for losses, six passes defensed and one interception return for a touchdown.

The hyperbole is used so often, but Watt has simply been unstoppable from his defensive end position the last five games he's played. 

Pro Football Focus, a football analytics site that grades every player on every snap of every game, had Watt rated as its best overall player through two weeks—and by a wide margin. In fact, no player in the site's five-year history of grading players had a higher overall rating after two weeks than Watt's 18.3. 

In two games, PFF had Watt down for seven stops (a tackle that constitutes a negative play for the offense) and 10 pressure plays (sack, quarterback hit or hurry). Some 3-4 defensive ends go the entire season without making 10 pressure plays, but Watt did it in just two. 

And the scary part about Watt's PFF grade is that it is going to rise to even greater heights after the numbers are plugged in from Week 3. Considering that he was over an 8.0 grade in each of the first two games, one could assume that Watt will be 24.0-26.0 range heading into Week 3. 

For context on that grade, consider that only five 3-4 defensive ends had a grade over 25.0 for the entire 2011 season, and Watt was one of them. 

While it's still early in the 2012 season, Watt has certainly stamped his name atop the candidate list for Defensive Player of the Year. And even though Smith didn't win it last year for the 49ers, his rise in the mind of many voters could help voters lean towards Watt. 

3-4 defensive ends can win this award, and there's no doubt that Watt is putting himself on track to do it in 2012. 


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