J.J. Watt is now in his 12th NFL season, and his second with the Arizona Cardinals. At this point, he’s considered to be one of the league’s greatest veteran statesmen. But during his heyday with the Houston Texans, he was inarguably the best defensive player in the league. Though he may not be quite the player he once was, he remains one of the most revered and respected players in the league. Does everything he’s accomplished in his career ensure a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Watt has led the NFL in sacks twice (20.5 in 2012, 17.5 in 2015), both of which were seasons he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He has been awarded this distinction a third time, in the 2014 season. As a three-time winner of the award, he’s in truly elite company. The only other players in league history to have done this are Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald. What’s more, the only players to have won the award twice are Joe Greene, Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, Reggie White, and all-time sack leader Bruce Smith.
Smith, White, Greene, and Donald are among the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history. So, too, is Watt.
Number of Seasons with 10+ sacks:
- Smith – 13
- White – 12
- Greene – 1
- Donald – 6
- Watt – 5
Number of Seasons with 20+ sacks:
- Smith – 0
- White – 1
- Greene – 0
- Donald – 1
- Watt – 2
Even more impressively, Watt is the only player in league history to officially record at least 20 sacks in more than one season. The great Deacon Jones, of course, accomplished this as well, three times as a matter of fact, although “unofficially.” This leaves Watt’s credentials for the Hall of Fame nearly impossible to deny. But his abilities as a sack master are equaled by his abilities in running down other plays behind the line of scrimmage.
In each of his Defensive Player of the Year seasons, Watt has led the NFL in tackles for loss (39 in 2012, 29 in 2014 and 2015). Tackles for loss has only officially been a league statistic since 1999, but since that time there is only one player who has recorded more than Watt: Terrell Suggs. Among active players, he’s number one, notably ahead of Calais Campbell, who has played longer, and Von Miller.
Watt’s prominence in all factors of the game easily places him among the greatest defensive players in the history of the NFL. The only question remaining about his place in the Hall of Fame is when exactly it will come. 2022 has arguably been his best individual season since 2018, so it isn’t inconceivable that he puts together a couple of more solid seasons in his career before either retiring or being relegated to a lesser role. But he’s a Hall of Famer without question.