J.J. Watt for MVP?
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
If the Houston Texans make the playoffs, J.J. Watt is your 2014 NFL MVP.
I know, I know, there's a quarterback in Green Bay playing out of his mind right now and the two in Denver and New England are battling it out for first place in the AFC, where the Texans are currently in eighth place at 7-6. So why should the MVP go to a defensive lineman for the first time since 1971?
Watt is a special player, there's no debating that. He's been the best defensive player in the league consistently all season and by a considerable margin. He is one of just three players to be on the field in over 91 percent of his team's snaps on defense and has incited panic in the pocket more times than any defensive player in the league.
Whatever statistical measure you look for in a pass rusher, Watt is either at the top or very close to it. Quarterback sacks, hits, pressures, Watt disrupts the signal caller more than anyone else in the NFL and it makes an indelible mark on his football team. He's even batted down nine passes, something he's become famous for doing, which is more than a lot of starting safeties.
He's forced three fumbles this season, picked up five and returned one 45 yards for a touchdown against the Colts on Thursday Night Football. His lone interception of the season went 80 yards for another score in what ended up being a six-point victory for Houston against Buffalo. On seven offensive snaps this season he has three touchdown receptions which is one more than Andre Johnson has and two more than actual starting tight end Garrett Graham.
As the quarterback debate rages on between supporters of Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, the best player on the other side of the field is understood. The most dynamic pass rusher in football is Watt, he's the Rodgers, Brady and Manning of that discussion.
Maybe the biggest surprise of Watt's season is that he's not leading the league in sacks. He's not far off, his 14.5 take downs are 1.5 back of co-leaders Elvis Dumervil and Justin Houston, but if last week was any indication then Watt will make up that ground before long. Against the Jaguars, Watt notched three sacks and batted down a pass for good measure.
Just watch this five minute clip of Watt against the Titans on Week 13. Watt manhandles Tennessee's offensive line then strips quarterback Zach Mettenberger, picks up the fumble and runs with it for about 10 yards. After a minute of celebrating with his teammates on the sideline, Watt is rushed onto the field and catches a touchdown pass on his first snap on offense. Name another player in the league that could do that.
But, you'll notice the first seven words I wrote are "if the Houston Texans make the playoffs". Every MVP since 1973 led their team to the playoffs, it's a criteria at this point.
Of course most of those years the award was given to a quarterback, and the committee will always choose a quarterback that had a great year and led his team to the playoffs over a quarterback that only had a great year. Quarterbacks are judged more than any position in sports by how many games they win.
However this is true for non-quarterback MVPs as well. In 2012, Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards and dragged a Vikings team that started Christian Ponder to ten wins and the playoffs. In 1986, Lawrence Taylor was voted a unanimous MVP as a linebacker not only for his incredible season, but also because he anchored a dominant defense that the Giants rode to a 14-2 regular season record.
Houston is in a tricky spot. They have to win two out of their last three games to have any kind of shot at still making the playoffs, in fact they will most likely have to win out. Up next for the Texans is a date with Andrew Luck and the Colts, whom the Texans have already lost to at home (Watt had seven tackles, two sacks and three passes defended in that game).
After that is a game against a Baltimore team that is in win-now mode, and the Ravens have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and head coach who know how to win games when it matters. The lowly Jaguars finish out the schedule which, if the Texans are 2-0 in that stretch, is a great way to finish out the season.
This is important because if the Texans are to make the playoffs, Watt will have to be the best player on the field in every game.
Remember, this is a team that started Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, lost faith in him, and is now forced to start him again after Ryan Mallett went down. This is a team that went 2-14 last season, drafted Jadeveon Clowney number one overall, and has seen barely seen him on the field this year because of injuries.
Watt accounts for half of his teams 29 sacks this season and five of their 35 total touchdowns. If MVP truly means Most Valuable Player, think about what the Texans would look like without him and then tell me he doesn't belong in the discussion with the quarterbacks for the award.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo