The 2016 NFL season was not kind to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt’s season ended prematurely after only three games. There is no doubt that he has had time to rehabilitate and recover properly. A healthy J.J. Watt is one of the best defensive players in the NFL and capable of dominating the game for 60 minutes. As one of the best defensive players in the NFL, can Watt win NFL Comeback Player of the Year?
Prior to last season, J.J. Watt started in 80 straight games, playing through injuries to benefit the Texans defense. This all came to a grinding halt when Watt suffered an injury that was too serious to play through. Watt had a herniated disc in his back, recovery would require surgery. The most important part of the rehabilitation process after this surgery is limitations in bending and twisting. Unfortunately those are the two most important movements for a pass rusher. Limiting these movements is necessary for the back to heal properly and Watt to be able to return to his former self. All indications are that his back has healed properly and is cleared to play. This is good news for the Texans and bad news for their opponents.
Excluding the shortened 2016 season, Watt has averaged 14.9 sacks per season. This includes two seasons where he was able to surpass 20 sacks. Watt is fully capable of returning to this type of dominance. Not only is he able to disrupt offenses with through rushing the passer, he is able to bat down passes while being engaged with a blocker. Aside from sacking the quarterback, this has become his signature play. As long as Watt is at or near his healthy self, it is possible to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
The main competition for the award this season is Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski missed half of last season due to a back injury of his own. He was the recipient of the award in 2014 and could be the second player to win the award twice, the first being Chad Pennington. Gronkowski is just as dominant at his position as Watt is at his, it all will come down to if each player can stay healthy and how well they perform this season. Anything is possible and Watt appears ready to take the award home for himself.