After being named the defensive player of the year in 2014 and 2015, the expectations for J.J. Watt to dominate in 2016 soared through the roof. However, because of a back injury he suffered in Week 3 of the regular season, Watt’s campaign was cut short and he even pondered how much longer his career would last.
Now, Watt feels good as new, telling reporters at Super Bowl LI in Houston that he’s been medically cleared to continue doing football-related activities after going through two back surgeries and an additional one on his groin.
“There’s a brand new fire, a new passion. There are new levels to reach I haven’t reached yet,” Watt said. “Trying to be the best player ever. … When the thing you love is taken away from you, you really appreciate what you’ve missed.”
The top-notch Houston Texans defensive end now plans to “transition to just being an elite [athlete] again. From this point forward, it’s a regular offseason.”
Watt is now confident he will continue to produce at a high level despite that not being the case a year ago. Over the course of his career, Watt has suffered from a twice-herniated disk, badly torn abdominal and adductor muscles, a broken hand, and a staph infection in his leg that could’ve been even more problematic for him had it not been halted by a quick intervention. As injures started to pile up, Watt suggested he wasn’t going to play forever.
“I’m going to continue to play until I feel like I’m not playing at that highest level anymore,” Watt said in April. “I can tell you right now I’m not going to be one of those guys that plays as long as he possibly can. I don’t have any interest in doing that. I know that I don’t plan on playing as long as I possibly can. It’s not going to be terribly longer, but I’m also going to play as long as I enjoy it and have fun.”
Despite not having Watt on the field for the vast majority of the 2016 season, the Texans owned the NFL’s top ranked defense before they were eliminated by the New England Patriots in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Watt cheered on his teammates from the sideline, and was clearly happy to see players such as Jadeveon Clowney develop into big-time playmakers; but on Wednesday, he admitted it was still a difficult year for him to endure. “You learn a lot about yourself. Three surgeries, and by the third one, I finally kind of realized do what you need to do to make sure that you’re getting back to being 100 percent healthy.
“Don’t try to impress anyone, even if it’s yourself. Don’t try to impress yourself with how fast you can come back or how much weight you can lift so early. Do everything they say, and do it the right way, and I have to say it’s paid off big time.”
This news should scare anybody who is scheduled to face the Texans in 2017. If Houston can retain some key defensive players in free agency this offseason, they will be a force to be reckoned with next year, as they have two of the best defensive ends in the game on the left and right side when they both have a clean bill of health.