All season long, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been a front-runner for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Count New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick among those who think Watt would be deserving of the honor.
"He's the most disruptive player in the league, certainly that we've seen," Belichick said Wednesday morning on a conference call with Houston reporters. "He's really pretty good at everything. He's got great quickness and length, instincts, good playing strength, got a high motor. Guy looks like the defensive player of the year to me."
Watt (6-5, 295) has a Texans franchise-record 15.5 sacks, which ranks second in the NFL behind 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (17.5). He has 15 passes defensed, a new single-season NFL record for a defensive lineman and the sixth-most of any player in the league in 2012. He's also tied for the Texans' team lead with 59 tackles and has 14.5 tackles for loss.
"He's been so productive and so disruptive," said Belichick, a five-time Super Bowl champion who has coached defense in the NFL since 1978. "It's not just the pass rush, it's batted balls. It's tackles for loss. And the blocking that he draws helps everybody else out. He's been a terrific player for them in a lot of different ways. He contributes so many things to their team. This guy is really a good player."
Before Watt, 23, was the No. 11 overall pick in last year's draft out of Wisconsin, he was a tight end at Central Michigan in 2007. He walked away from a scholarship to walk on at Wisconsin as a defensive end.
Now just two seasons into his NFL career, Watt has emerged as a dominant force. And he's doing it from a position, 3-4 defensive end, that normally produces pedestrian pass-rushing numbers.
"(Texans defensive coordinator) Wade's (Phillips) done a good job of putting him in positions to where he can make plays," Belichick said. "They move him around a little bit. It's a little bit hard; you don't know exactly where he's going to be or even where he lines up. They'll stunt him so that he could end up in a different spot than where he starts, that type of thing. He's not the easiest guy to zero in on, and even when you do zero in on him, he's still a hard guy to handle, hard guy to block."
Belichick also said Watt benefits from playing with defensive end Antonio Smith, a ninth-year veteran who made his first-career Pro Bowl last season. Smith has at least four sacks in each of his four seasons with the Texans, including 6.5 in 2011 and 5.0 so far this season.
"He's pretty good, too," Belichick said. "They have good balance. When I was with the Giants, we had (Hall of Fame linebacker) Lawrence Taylor. Probably the best thing that happened to Taylor, really, was (Pro Bowl linebacker) Carl Banks. I think there is probably a little bit of that by having Smith on the other side. You've got to deal with Watt, but you have to deal with Smith, too, so it's a great situation for the Texans."