The night before Super Bowl XLVII, the NFL will salute its best players and plays from the 2012 season with "NFL Honors," a star-studded football and entertainment event at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre in New Orleans. Just like last year, Alec Baldwin will host the proceedings, which will be broadcast on CBS at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 2.
One of the awards that will be presented on that night: the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs received the 2011 honor. Who gets the nod this time around?
There were three worthy candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year award this season. In any other year, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller or San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith could have been slam-dunk picks. However, J.J. Watt is the right choice for his performance in the 2012 season.
Watt dominated as a pass rusher and run defender for the Houston Texans. He was literally unblockable. Miller and Smith both benefitted from the presence of very talented sidekicks (Elvis Dumervil and Justin Smith, respectively) while Watt was forced to deal with double-team blocks on all three downs.
This was easy. I used my AP vote on J.J. Watt. No other NFL defender was as consistently dominant as Watt.
J.J. Watt has become the most destructive five-tech to ever play the game. Typically, that position is used to consume blocks so that the outside rusher can have a free run at the quarterback. Obviously, that's not how Watt plays it.
J.J. Watt gets my Defensive Player of the Year vote. Despite being double-teamed constantly as the focal point of every opposing offensive coordinator's game plan, he produced. For a down lineman in a 3-4 to get 20.5 sacks is beyond staggering. In that defense, the outside linebackers are almost always the "sack" guys. Moreover, to swat 16 balls in a season is beyond remarkable.
While Watt is an easy choice for the award, my second-place vote would go to Antonio Cromartie. What a great season he had for the New York Jets after fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis went down. He received such little rest, too, considering how often the Jets' offense was walking off the field for the punt team.
My choice is J.J. Watt. I can't remember a guy playing at such a high level -- week in and week out, for an entire season -- in a long time. And he excelled while primarily playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense or defensive tackle in a 4-3 front. It's difficult to generate sacks or generally dominate a game from those spots, but Watt flourished. He entered Week 17 with a chance to break the single-season sack record, finishing 2.5 short at 20.5. Watt became so adept at knocking down passes (16 swats) that it seemed like more teams began to work on the technique and have success doing it. Not only did he excel against the pass, Watt was a major factor against the run, as well.
I saw most of Watt's games this year, and I can't remember a single bad performance. He was a factor in every contest, against both the run and the pass.
J.J. Watt really improved during his second season, recording an NFL-high 20.5 sacks. But what really impressed me was his work on the line with regard to pass deflections. Watt changed the way quarterbacks looked down the field. So even when he's getting blocked, Watt is still able to impact the game in a major way. I have to give it to Watt.