Texans All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt had his season cut short last season. After undergoing surgery before the season, there were concerns about his ability to perform at a high level. After only three games, he was forced to end his season prematurely.
In July 2016, Watt underwent surgery for a herniated disc. He was not expected to return for a while, but made a remarkable recovery and played week one against Chicago. The miraculous comeback only lasted for so long, as two games later his season came to an abrupt end.
Forced to undergo a second surgery on his back, his 2016 campaign can only be described as as disappointment. Playing in three games with eight total tackles and one and a half sacks. 2016 is by far his least productive season.
While recovering from herniated disc surgery, the biggest limitations are bending and twisting. Why does this matter? Those are the two main things a player like Watt has to do when playing football. Being able to bend around and get the angle against opposing lineman to get to the quarterback. Twisting to shake off a defender to tackle the ball carrier. These are the things that cause a reoccurring injury, which unfortunately seems to be in Watt’s future.
This is not the first instance of Watt dealing with a herniated disc. In 2015 he twice suffered from herniated disc issues. This is in addition to the laundry list of other injuries he had in just 2015. A broken hand, staph infection, torn abdominal and adductor muscles.
Watt has previously pondered his long term future in football. There is no reason to doubt him for this. Plenty of NFL players have retired due to injuries and fear of future injuries. Watt has since said he plans on playing for the Texans for a long time and there is no need to worry about early retirement. However, another back injury could change everything.
There is denying Watt’s work ethic. He is going to work as hard as he can to get back to playing as well as he did before 2016. As long as he avoids injury, another productive season is not out of the question. Somewhere in the range of 55 total tackles with 15 sacks can be expected for the Texans defensive end.
The future of Watt in the NFL rests on his back. As long as he avoids herniating a disc again, he will be fine. Another herniated disc issue can really alter his plans. As long as he is healthy, another one to two more seasons of dominant Watt can be expected. After that a relatively steady drop off in production. This is not a slight against Watt, but everything to do with his now reoccurring back issues.