Somewhere along the way to his three Defensive Player of the Year awards in the last four years, J.J. Watt became a polarizing figure. It probably has to do with his relentlessly upbeat social media presence, or the fact that he always seems to be working out, which is somehow a bad thing. I blame the millennials.
For a little over seven months a year, the cynical bastards sitting on social media all day long troll Watt. If you glance at his mentions, you’ll immediately wish you had gotten those seconds back. Scanning the troglodytes tweets to Watt, you’d think he was one of the many professional athletes who ring up DUIs or get arrested for ____.
But during the NFL season, you can’t touch Watt. Offensive lineman can’t; trolls certainly can’t. Here’s what he’s in the midst of: The greatest 4-year run any defensive player has had in NFL History. He’s played in the NFL for five seasons. Three of those years, he’s been voted the best defensive player in football.
Several defensive stars have won the award multiple times. Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary and Reggie White to names a few. Watt just turned 27.
Let’s focus on Watt vs Taylor, which right now sparks a good debate: Which is the better defensive player in modern football history? (Football is in italics because we’ll get to how Taylor wrecked his life off-the-field in a minute.)
Taylor was the DPOY as a rookie (the only player to win that award in his first season), and then again in 1982. He didn’t win another one until 1986 when he registered 20.5 sacks in a season so dominant he won the MVP award.
The Giants went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. Taylor was 27 and looking back, that was clearly the apex of his career. He was still an very good pass rusher after that, registering 15.5 sacks in 1988 and 15 in 1989 before his last good season (10.5 sacks in 1990 at the age of 31).
Watt’s already had two years as productive as LT’s 20.5 sacks. Watt was the NFL MVP runner up in 2014. He plays in a second tier market compared to New York.
This one’s easy: Until the Houston Texans make a run to the Super Bowl – maybe an AFC Championship game will suffice – Watt won’t win an NFL MVP award, and thus the pundits will claim Taylor was the greatest defensive player in NFL history.
Fair? Of course not. But for the last 29 seasons, only two positions have captured the NFL MVP: Quarterback and running back. What does it say about a statistically-driven league when the two greatest receivers of the modern era – Jerry Rice and Randy Moss – never won an NFL MVP award, but QB Rich Gannon won one (2002) and so did RB Shaun Alexander (2005)? Not taking anything away from their regular seasons, but both wound up losing the Super Bowl, with Gannon throwing five interceptions and Alexander rushing for just 95 yards.
Back to Taylor. Off-the-field, the Giants’ star was a train wreck. He was suspended from the NFL in 1987 for a month for cocaine use. In fact, he couldn’t stop talking about alcohol and drugs, which the league surely loved. When LT does it, his stories are funny/cool; when Johnny Manziel goes this route, he’s an ace degenerate.
In retirement, he had two stints in drug rehab, and was arrested trying to buy cocaine from undercover police officers twice. In 2010 he hit rock bottom: At the age of 51, he was arrested for trying to have sex with a 16-year old prostitute.
Watt – so far – has had a vastly superior off-the-field run than Taylor.