So Wade Phillips thinks J.J. Watt had the best season a defensive lineman's ever had, but Phillips is Watt's defensive coordinator, and thus might be apt to bias.
However, the numbers indicate Phillips could be on to something, and the eyeball test certainly doesn't lie regarding Watt's dominance as a defender.
This season in Houston, Watt became the first player in NFL history to achieve what The Wall Street Journal calls the "Triple Crown" for defensive linemen. He led the league in run stuffs, sacks and batted passes.
But this doesn't even do his season justice: Since Stats LLC began recording all three categories in 1992, his 23.5 run stuffs were nearly double the second most recorded—12 by Indianapolis Colts linebacker Kavell Conner in 2011. Watt's 15 batted passes also far exceeded the second-best mark of 11 by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in 2007. And the 20.5 sacks Watt recorded were just two off the all-time single-season record by Michael Strahan, formerly of the New York Giants.
Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith points to another important advanced stat, tracked by Football Outsiders, called "defeats." Using this metric, which combines turnovers, tackles for losses and tackles or passes defenses that prevent a third- or fourth-down conversion from happening, Watts had a more dominant year than any other defensive player since the data began being tracked in 1996. He had 56 in total this season, which is 11 more than Ray Lewis circa 1999.
The geniuses at Pro Football Focus also appear to approve. Last week, they named Watt the best player in football…on either side of the ball.
People talk about how Lawrence Taylor burst into the league and changed the way people thought about 3-4 outside linebackers. You are witnessing the same thing happening now with Watt. … Watt became the first player to ever top 100 grading points in a single season at any position, ending the year with a farcical looking +101.7 grade on 958 snaps. This time last season we anointed Justin Smith the second-best player in football, and one of the most dominant defenders in the league, with a grade of +46.5 on the season. Watt more than doubled that, and this time last year we would have told you that there wasn’t much room for a player to be better than Smith. J.J. Watt is completely re-writing what we thought was possible from his position. We are witnessing something very special.
The most exciting part? The guy's only 23 years old….