NFL Cornerstones: Defensive End

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you guys agree.

The selection- J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Honorable mentions- Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Quinn, Junior Galette, Muhammad Wilkerson

Defensive ends in the NFL tend to be some of the most athletic, physically built human beings alive. They fly around the line of scrimmage with the intent to blow up plays and create problems for the offense at the point of attack. No one does that better than J.J. Watt. The Texans’ defensive end has been arguably the best player in the NFL over the past three years. He definitely has been on the defensive side of the ball, earning the Defensive Player of the Year award in both 2012 and 2014. Watt, at only 25 years old, has years to come of playing at an elite level. He has proven his worth in the NFL.
Watt over the course of his career has racked up 57 sacks. In just four seasons, that is an incredible number. He is averaging just over 14 quarterback takedowns per year. Watt also penciled himself into NFL history this season. The three time All-Pro became the first player in the league history to record multiple 20+ sack seasons. Watt is a menace along the line of scrimmage even when he cannot reach the quarterback. He has tallied 37 tipped passes at the line, including 10 this past season, most among defensive linemen this year.

As a run defender, Watt has proven his worth as well. The 3-time Pro Bowler has registered 53 run stuffs in the past 3 seasons. Each year he has recorded at least 15 as well showing his consistency dominance at the line of scrimmage. He is strong enough to hold off offensive linemen, disrupting the flow of the rushing attack. Watt’s 79 total tackles were the most by a defensive lineman in 2014. He has a knack for flying around and making plays.

The Houston superstar seems to thrive on the big plays as well. Watt has generated four fumbles over each of the past three seasons. He also led the NFL this year in fumble recoveries with five. Watt even pulled in an interception, which, along with one of his fumble recoveries, he returned for a touchdown. Watt had two defensive touchdowns this year, not to mention three more on offense as a tight end. That is a testament to Watt’s versatility and freakish athletic ability.

Watt truly has very few weaknesses. He is an elite pass rusher and a dominant run defender. He creates big plays that take the pressure off the offense. He kills drives with his batted passes. Watt has managed to find a way to do it all. The other thing that makes him invaluable is his consistency. He has registered at least 10 sacks in each of the past 3 campaigns. He has tallied the same number of forced fumbles. Watt does not have amazing years every now and then. He, year in year out lays down an unparalleled level of punishment on his opponents. Watt off the field is an excellent face of the franchise. He has never had any issues with the media or with his teammates. He is an intense leader that expects the same level of hard work that he puts in from everyone else.

Plenty of other defensive linemen in the NFL are playing a high level and making a huge impact on their team. The reality is thought that Watt plays on a completely different level all of his own. He rarely dominants a certain category on the stat sheet. He is much more likely to rank in the top three of every relevant category though at his position. He is a complete player. Many prospects joining the league now are better suited as either a run defender or a pass rusher. It is uncommon to find a player who ranks among the elite at both. Watt is one of those rare players who fits both labels making him a no-brainer at this selection.

For more Cornerstone selections, click here.


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