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What Is J.J. Watt's New Ceiling?

After multiple devastating injuries, what will J.J. Watt look like in 2018?
After multiple devastating injuries, what will J.J. Watt look like in 2018?
Photo by Eric Sauseda

For J.J. Watt, the last three seasons have all ended in the same way — with some portion of his body in tattered ruins. If it feels like J.J. Watt has had more surgeries than sacks over the last two years, it's because he has. In 2015, he limped off the field with his groin torn to shreds. In 2016, his surgically repaired back gave out after just three games. Finally, last season, it was the tibial plateau on his left leg that exploded in Week 5 against the Chiefs.

Watt's extensive philanthropic efforts off the field have rightfully kept him front of mind, but at this point, the idea of J.J. Watt wreaking havoc on an opposing offensive line feels way more conceptual than actual. When you factor in his other bumps and bruises in 2015 — a broken hand, the beginnings of the herniated disc in his back — Watt hasn't really been fully healthy on the field since the middle of the 2015 season.

So now here we are, entering the 2018 season in a little less than four weeks, and we are left to wonder — with just eight games played in the last two seasons and his body nearly totally reassembled on the surgical table of Dr. Walter Lowe, what is the new ceiling for J.J. Watt?

We know the old ceiling — three time Defensive Player of the Year, wrecker of worlds, dominator of offensive linemen near and far, freak of nature. To be clear, having observed Watt up close at training camp a week or so ago for five days, I can tell you that he LOOKS LIKE that J.J. Watt. He is in amazing shape, and he is dominating every drill in which he's placed.

However, those are just drills. We don't know what Watt will look like once he's on the field, in pads, and wrestling bears in opposing uniforms on a down-in, down-out basis. Hell, we don't even know if he can play down-in and down-out yet. As we calibrate our expectations, though, know that one certain sector of the football universe, the GAMBLING sector, still sees Watt as the player he was from 2012 through 2015, apparently. Just last week, Bovada put out futures wagers on who will win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018, and guess who the favorite is?

Odds to win the 2018 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award
JJ Watt 5/1

Joey Bosa 11/2
Aaron Donald 11/2
Khalil Mack 11/2
Von Miller 9/1
Jalen Ramsey 14/1
Luke Kuechley 22/1
Cameron Jordan 22/1
DeMarcus Lawrence 22/1
Chandler Jones 30/1
Calais Campbell 33/1
Fletcher Cox 33/1
Myles Garrett 33/1
Harrison Smith 33/1
Bobby Wagner 35/1
Tyrann Mathieu 40/1
Xavier Rhodes 40/1
Bradley Chubb 50/1
Jadaveon Clowney 50/1
Myles Jack 50/1
Marshon Lattimore 50/1
CJ Mosley 60/1
Deion Jones 66/1
Eric Berry 75/1
Everson Griffen 75/1
Malik Hooker 75/1
Telvin Smith 75/1
Marcus Peters 75/1
Stephon Tuitt 80/1
Kwon Alexander 85/1
Roquan Smith 85/1
Keanu Neaul 90/1

I look at these odds, and I have three thoughts — first, I am SO excited that J.J. Watt playing football is back in our lives! Two, it's great to see the market have such confidence in his recuperative powers. Finally, there is no chance in hell I would bet on Watt at just 5/1 to win this award. As much as I hope I'm wrong, you can't just expect a guy to shake off two years of rust and play at THAT level, even J.J. Watt. (For the record, I think Tyrann Mathieu at 40/1 is one of the best values on the board.)

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So to finally get to the point of this post, my expectations for J.J. Watt this season, I honestly have no clue what to expect. I think the ceiling is that we get 2015 Watt again (2014 was Peak Watt, and I don't know if that version is ever coming back.), and the floor is that we get a sometimes impactful, high motor, slightly above average defensive end.

I do know this — if there is a football God, and he were to come down in the middle of the night on September 8 and hand me a contract under which we would get J.J. Watt at 70 percent of Peak Watt, I would sign it in blood on the spot. That would translate to 14 sacks, 35 QB hits, and about a half dozen or so passes knocked down.

Yeah, sign me up.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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