Sean Pendergast

J.J. Watt's Reaction to Being Named No. 35 in NFL Top 100 Is Priceless

J.J. Watt is not impressed with his peers rating him the 35th best player in football last season.
J.J. Watt is not impressed with his peers rating him the 35th best player in football last season. Eric Sauseda
Never has there been a more debated, discussed sports topic for which nobody — and I mean NOBODY, not even the voters — understands the evaluation criteria than the NFL's Top 100 players list. The list has been in existence since 2011, and its Wikipedia page provides this general bit of direction on what exactly the list is supposed to tell us:

The NFL Top 100 is an annual list that features the top one hundred players in the National Football League (NFL), as chosen by fellow NFL players. The rankings are based on an off-season poll organized by the NFL, whereby players vote on their peers based on their projected performance for the next NFL season. In the six-year history of the countdown, no player has been voted #1 multiple times. Also, only players that would be active in the next season would be eligible for consideration.
So it says the list is "based on their projected performance for the next NFL season," and yet in 2012, the players voted Tim Tebow (fresh off winning a playoff game, but clearly not a Top 30 quarterback, let alone a Top 100 player) 95th, and the next season, they voted Jacoby Jones (fresh off an all-time Super Bowl performance, and that's pretty much it) 88th.

Those were assessments based solely on the buzz generated from the previous season's postseason, and nothing that any rational person would predict for either of those players. Further evidence that the Top 100 is more about prior history and not future gains is J.J. Watt's Top 100 pattern:

Year   Rank            Previous season summary
2012: Unranked      Rookie year, 5.5 sacks
2013: No. 5             Defensive POY, 20 sacks
2014: No. 12           1st team All Pro, 10.5 sacks
2015: No. 1             Defensive POY, 20.5 sacks
2016: No. 3             Defensive POY, 17.5 sacks

In his first four years in the rankings, the only dip out of the top five that Watt experienced was after the Texans' 2-14 season when he slipped to just 10.5 sacks. So it's ostensibly a projection for the next season with a ton of last season baked into the voting. (By the way, as a side note, I've asked at least a couple of dozen players if they've ever voted in this process, and exactly NONE of them have, so I'm skeptical about the whole endeavor to begin with.)

So last week we found out that Jadeveon Clowney is rated the 49th best player in the NFL heading into 2017, coming off of his first Pro Bowl berth and his first season (of three total) in which he was healthy and ascending all season long. On my radio show, we debated whether Watt would even make the list this year, given how high we'd gotten to that point (the list is announced on TV weekly in ten-spot increments, so up to 41st had been revealed) and the fact that he played only three games last season because of a back injury.

Well, we got our answer this week...

Now, there is zero doubt that the previous season matters a whole lot more than any forward look at next season, because Watt is reportedly fully healthy, and a fully healthy Watt is, at worst, one of the ten best players. Watt's reaction to the list was interesting...

In my mind, this tweet can be interpreted in one of two ways. If J.J. sees the rankings as a reflection of the previous season, then he is saying, "I don't even deserve to be in the Top 100, I barely played, this list is a joke." However, if J.J. sees the list as a forecast of the upcoming season (and he is fully healthy now, worth noting), then he is saying, "Yeah, I only played three games last year, but I'm J.J. F-ING WATT, this list is a joke!"

Watt's public persona would seem to indicate that it's the former, but I'm not gonna lie — if J.J. wants to freshen up his character and become super-interesting by taking on a cocky heel persona, I'm in for that!

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast