EDITOR'S NOTE:This article appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Oct. 14, 2012, for the Texans' game against the Green Bay Packers at Reliant Stadium.
A very believable argument can be made that J.J. Watt is a cyborg sent from the future to wreak havoc on NFL offenses in the second decade of this millennium.
Think about it: A 6-5, 295-pound defensive end who is big, but not outlandishly big. He possesses atypical athleticism, speed and agility for someone his size. He has been nicknamed 'JuggerWatt' and 'MegaWatt.' He wears a bionic-looking brace on his left arm.
OK, maybe not. But with an NFL-best 8.5 sacks and eight pass deflections, the conspiracy theorists could easily cook that story up and believe it. What Watt's accomplished through the season's first five games has been historic for a defensive end playing in a 3-4 scheme. He was recognized as the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month for September, which could be the first of many accolades to come his way this season.
"He certainly had a tremendous month," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "I've had (Hall of Fame defensive ends) Reggie White and Bruce Smith and Elvin Bethea and Curly Culp, who may go in the Hall of Fame this year. I've been around a lot of good players, and I don't know that they had any better four games than what he's had."
The attention now paid to Watt both on and off the gridiron has mushroomed. Prior to the Texans' Monday Night Football victory over the New York Jets, ESPN color-commentator and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden described Watt as "the best player at any position I have watched on tape this year." Then, Watt backed up that praise by tallying a sack, six tackles, a tackle for loss and three pass deflections as the Texans improved to 5-0.
"He's exceptional," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He had his hands on a couple more down there. He's been playing exceptional."
The day after the Texans selected Watt 11th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Wisconsin native arrived in Houston with his parents, and those 'hands' Kubiak referred to were instantly put on display. Ten seconds into Watt's introductory press conference at Reliant Stadium, Phillips made a point to reach over and raise Watt's size 11 left paw, pointing out that "he had the largest hands at the Combine."
Once Watt hit training camp that August, he made a habit of getting his hands on passes. A common sound during those practices was the muffled "thump" of a Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart or T.J. Yates pass getting swatted down at the line of scrimmage. The swats have now become a signature part of Watt's game.
"I love it," Watt said on Monday night about the tipped passes. "You're not going to get a sack every play. It's another way to frustrate (quarterbacks). It's another way you can help change the outcome."
Now, Watt and the Texans defense are faced with a stiff challenge in the form of the Green Bay Packers, the team Watt grew up rooting for as a youngster in Pewaukee, Wis. After a standout junior season with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2010, Watt entered the draft and set out on accomplishing his goals. His most recent honor as the AFC's defensive player of the month was nice for Watt, but he wants more.
"I haven't gotten the ones I want yet," Watt said. "I have bigger goals. Every accolade, every award I get is just a checklist. It's just another check off the list, but there are much bigger goals out there. These ones are nice, and I very much appreciated them, but they're not the ones I want, really."
Watt shares the same team goal – a Super Bowl – as wide receiver Andre Johnson, a player who's no stranger to hard work in the offseason. The 10th-year veteran was impressed with the way Watt handled himself in camp after dislocating his left elbow.
"I went up to him and I'm like, 'How you feeling?'" Johnson said. "He's like, 'I'll be ready Week 1.' He was ready to go. It's been showing. He's playing his butt off. He's a beast out there. We expect to hear his name called at least four or five times a game or out there tipping balls or doing something crazy. It doesn't surprise me what he's doing."
Playing tonight in front of a deafening crowd, and a crowd rife with family and friends who made the trip south from his home state, will help serve as motivation for Watt. So will playing on a national stage for the second consecutive week and having a chance to add 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to his ever-growing sack list. But the ferocity with which the second-year defender attacks each day won't likely ebb until he's long gone from the NFL.*