Can J.J. Watt go where only two men have gone before?
Two defensive players in NFL history have won league MVP honors since the Associated Press started handing out the award in 1957. Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page was the first in 1971. New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the second in 1986.
Watt said last week that he wants to be the next player on the list.
"If I'm not mistaken, L.T. was the last one to win the MVP as a defensive player," Watt said. "It's on the list. That's a goal…. I'm trying to add that title myself, so we'll see."
Watt brought up Taylor after being asked about a comparison made by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday. Belichick likened Watt and Texans defensive end Antonio Smith to Taylor and linebacker Carl Banks, who he coached as an assistant with the Giants in the 1980s.
"(Taylor is) one of the greatest defensive players of all time," Watt said. "There is nothing that I can say. That's a great compliment. I'm very humbled."
Since the AP has awarded the NFL MVP in 1957, it has been won by 37 quarterbacks, 17 running backs and one kicker (Mark Moseley, Washington Redskins, 1982). It has been 26 years since Taylor was the last defensive player to take home the hardware.
Quarterbacks like New England's Tom Brady and Denver's Peyton Manning are, as always, among the leading candidates for this year's MVP award. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson also are in the mix. Even among defensive players, Watt has competition from 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks), who like Watt could break Michael Strahan's sack record, and Broncos linebacker Von Miller (16 sacks).
But Watt is making a compelling case for himself through 12 games. He has been the biggest playmaker on one of the league's best defenses, playing an instrumental role in the Texans' NFL-best 11-1 record.
Watt already has a franchise-record 16.5 sacks, which was one behind Smith for the NFL lead before Smith had two sacks on Sunday. Watt's pass rush has been remarkably consistent, as he has recorded a sack in 10 of 12 games this season.
Watt also has 15 passes defensed, already a new NFL record for a defensive lineman. The previous record was 13, set by Hall of Famer Reggie White in 1991. Watt is the first player in NFL history with 14 sacks and 14 passes defensed in a season, and he's on pace for a remarkable total of 22 and 20 in those categories.
"I don't have any doubt that he should be (considered for the MVP award)," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Friday. "He's already setting records right now and we're not through with the season, obviously.
"I'm on defense. I think they're the most important players. (Watt) certainly is going to get recognition because he's earned it."
Watt also is tied for the Texans' team lead with 59 tackles. He leads the team with 27 tackles for loss and 31 quarterback hits. And he's doing it all as a 3-4 defensive end, a position hardly prone to gaudy numbers.
"It took a lot of hard work to get here, and it's going to take a lot of hard work to stay here," Watt said. "I know what it's going to take and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to stay here and to keep growing as a player. I'm nowhere near my potential yet, and I'm really excited about where this game can take me."
Watt will do his best to lead the Texans to a 12-1 record against Brady and the Patriots on Monday night.