JJ Watt Broken Leg Raises Career Question: Will He Ever Be at His Best Again?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 9, 2017

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) is helped off the field after he was injured during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

There is a picture of J.J. Watt's leg from Sunday night's game, and we don't need to link to it. But the picture shows it all. Watt's knee bent in a way that isn't natural.

We're used to seeing Watt do superhuman things. Beat double-teams. Leap over tall tackles in a single bound. Raise millions of dollars for a beleaguered, storm-soaked city. The only thing Watt doesn't do is deflect bullets or command starships.

Most NFL players are not of this Earth, but Watt is one of the four or five most physically gifted ones. Yet we know, once again, that even these men of steel can be felled by a single awkward move that tears a ligamentor worse.

The Texans announced Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg against the Kansas City Chiefs. Dez Bryant had a similar injury last year and missed three games. But Watt's injury appears to be more serious. He's out for the season, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, among others. Dr. David Chao offered further details, including possible long-term effects, on the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Is this catastrophic? For this season, yes.

But the larger question: What happens to Watt's career moving forward? That was the big story emerging from the Chiefs' 42-34 win over the Texans. The game itself was important, but not as important as the Watt news and his future.

He's 28 years old. That isn't necessarily too old in the NFL, but for a defensive player coming off two back surgeries and a nasty knee injury, it is fair to wonder whether we have already seen the best of Watt.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 08:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans is helped off the field after being injured in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Watt represents the splendor and power and danger of the NFL. How these giants move with such speed and power, but also how easily they can be felled. Even a player as formidable as Watt.

Watt is the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. His rise and play was comparable to dramatic rise and play of legends like Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. This is not an exaggeration. This is a fact. He is that good.

It's clear, however, what's happening to Watt now. The game is wearing his body down. Even in this maliciously violent sport, Watt has experienced some of the worst the NFL can give. The only thing that hasn't happened chronically to Watt (that we know of) is a high number of serious concussive head blows.

This was just another violent day in the most violent of sports. Another star, Odell Beckham, fractured his ankle. Three other Giants receivers were hurt. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce suffered a head injury.

Watt's injury is particularly important because, unlike the Giants, the Texans had a legitimate chance to make a deep playoff run. The team has found something that has been missing during Watt's entire tenure in Houston: a legitimate quarterback. Just as Deshaun Watson became a starter and the Texans found an offense, Watt exits, likely for the season.

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  J.J. Watt #99 and  Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans celebrate a play in the first quarter of their game against the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

What do the Texans do now? The defense takes a precipitous drop without Watt, but it still has some talent. Defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney is a budding star, while other players on the defense can play at a high level. Losing Watt, though, is like losing a Beatle. Or a Beyonce.

If any player can come back and still dominate, it's Watt. At least, I hope so.

I interviewed Watt one-on-one several years ago. We sat in a small room in the bowels of NRG Stadium. We spoke for 30 minutes, but it only took 30 seconds to tell Watt was an electric personality. Combine that personality with extreme talent and there was Watt.

Now he's gone for the year.

The question becomes: What about Watt's long-term future?

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.