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Should the New York Jets sign recently-released defensive end J.J. Watt?

J.J. Watt, Sam Darnold
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Here are some important numbers to know regarding what is left in the tank of future Hall-of-Fame defensive end J.J. Watt.

After a mesmerizing 10-year stint in Houston that will land him in Canton someday, J.J. Watt‘s career with the Texans has officially come to a close, and he will hit the open market.

In 2020, his age-32 season and 10th NFL campaign, Watt stayed healthy for all 16 games and put up some solid numbers. He recorded 52 tackles, including a very impressive total of 14 tackles for loss, which tied him with Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams for the second-most among 280-plus pound players (Watt weighed in at 288 pounds this past season).

Continuing his career-long knack for getting his hands on the football, Watt racked up seven passes defended, tied with Shelby Harris for the most among defensive linemen. He also recorded two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception that he returned for a 19-yard touchdown against Detroit.

The signals are mixed regarding the true quality of Watt’s pass rushing in 2020. Watt’s raw totals suggest that he was mediocre in this area while the advanced metrics suggest that he was actually quite good.

In the sack column, Watt was unimpressive, picking up 5.0 sacks even while playing a massive total of 1,013 defensive snaps, the second-most among defensive linemen.

In terms of pressures, Watt was also lackluster. His total of 45 pressures tied him for a respectable 27th among edge defenders, but Watt played 581 pass-rush snaps, the most at the position. His pressure rate of 7.7% was well below the 2020 positional average (9.7%) and stands as a personal career-low by a very wide margin.

However, Pro Football Focus’ grading system remained high on Watt’s abilities as a pass rusher. Watt earned a sparkling 76.7 pass-rush grade at PFF in 2020. While that is Watt’s worst mark in the category since his rookie year in 2011 (excluding a 2016 season in which he only played three games), it is still very good, ranking 17th out of the 79 edge defenders to play at least 400 snaps in 2020 (79th percentile).

How could Watt grade so well despite below-average production? Well, the actual quality of a player’s pass rushing does not always go hand-in-hand with his production. Sometimes, players get lucky and are handed a lot of easy plays that are unblocked or afforded a lot of time by the coverage. Other times, players get the short end of the stick and face obstacles that are out of their control yet severely limit their production.

Watt’s 2020 season seems to fit the latter. It appears that he was actually winning his battles at an elite rate, but he was simply getting unlucky that those wins were not rewarded with production. Two reasons can easily be pointed to: an abhorrent Texans secondary that afforded him little time to get home (109.6 passer rating allowed, second-worst in NFL) and a massive number of double teams that eliminated his chance to make any noise.

This chart – shared by ESPN’s Seth Walder – showcases that Watt had one of the highest “win rates” among edge rushers despite facing the highest rate of double teams by a wide margin.

Watt remains excellent against the run. As stated earlier, his tackle-for-loss total was tremendous this past season. He also tied for second among edge defenders with 26 run stops. However, it should be mentioned that he led the position with 427 snaps against the run, giving him a run stop rate of 6.1%, which is only slightly above the 2020 positional average (5.8%).

Additionally, Watt graded well in the phase at PFF, posting a run defense grade of 81.0 that ranked sixth-best out of 79 qualifiers (94th percentile). In addition to his on-ball play-making, he remains a forceful edge-setter.

Overall, PFF was very high on Watt’s performance despite his subpar raw numbers as a pass rusher. His overall PFF grade of 85.5 placed seventh-best at the EDGE position (92nd percentile).

Durability is the obvious concern with Watt. He has missed 32 games over the past five seasons, all of those coming in 2016 (13 games missed), 2017 (11), and 2019 (8).

On the positive side, Watt played all 16 games and was an absolute workhorse in two of the past three seasons. As previously noted, his total of 1,013 snaps in 2020 (63.3 per game and 91% of Houston’s defensive plays) was the second-highest among edge defenders, trailing only Harold Landry‘s 1,050 snaps. In 2018, Watt played all 16 games and ranked fourth at the position with 963 snaps (60.2 per game and 90% of Houston’s defensive plays).

In New York, Watt would be a solid fit in Robert Saleh‘s 4-3 base defense. He primarily lined up at 5-technique defensive end this past season, which is the spot where the Jets desperately need a new starter or two in order to accommodate the scheme change. Watt is also capable of kicking inside and playing the 3 or 4i-technique positions.

It is also important to think about how much of a positive locker-room impact that Watt could have for a Jets team that is looking to establish a rejuvenated culture.

What do you think? Should Joe Douglas and the Jets go after the soon-to-be 33-year-old superstar defensive end? Would Watt even be interested in joining the Jets, or will his eyes be set on a surefire Super Bowl contender?

And, who knows? Perhaps Watt will be the key to the heart of a certain quarterback. . . Watt and Deshaun Watson in the Meadowlands, anyone?

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3 years ago

I love JJ, and he would certainly be additive to our defense, but I cannot see him wanting to end his career in NY. He’s a WI boy, and I suspect will find a happy home with the Packers.

Sean Bird
Sean Bird
3 years ago
Reply to  elehtis

The Packers have cap issues which makes it unlikely that the Packers sign Watt.

Sean Bird
Sean Bird
3 years ago

I say yes because our D-line would help JJ Watt to not being double-teamed 24/7. His pressure rate would be really good if Watt is not the only good D-linemen on the team.

3 years ago