J.J. Watt surprising himself with return to Defensive Player of Year form

When J.J. Watt began this season, a question loomed that everyone was afraid to ask: Would he ever be the same dominant force he was when he won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards between 2012 and 2015?

Sure, he was healthy again after missing 24 games the past two seasons to injury, first a herniated disk in 2016, then a broken leg last season. But Watt is now 29, definitely middle age in NFL years, coming off two lost seasons.

Could he ever be the same player again? Halfway through the season, Watt’s quick return to peak form has surprised everyone — including himself.

“I don’t blame anybody who didn’t know if I was going to be the same again because there were times I didn’t know,” Watt told reporters Wednesday. “So, I can’t sit here and get too mad at people who thought I might be washed up or thought I might be done because I was sitting in that same boat when I was sitting at home with a cast on my leg and not being able to walk, thinking, ‘Man, will I be the same again?’

Through eight games, Watt has eight sacks, tied for second in the NFL with five other players (leader Aaron Donald has 10). 

J.J. Watt gets around the tackle for a HUGE sack to help stop the Dolphin’s drive.

(Via @NFL)pic.twitter.com/7m3JocHce0

Watt has 30 tackles, 13 quarterback hits, and he’s already tied his career high with four forced fumbles.

“It’s always good to be in the mix,” Watt said. “It’s always good to be making plays, whether it’s sacks, (tackles for losses), forced fumbles, anything. It’s always better to be at the top than at the bottom, that’s for sure, especially after the last couple years.

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No wonder Watt’s being mentioned as a candidate for his fourth DPOY award. But he thinks he’s still improving.

“I still don’t think I’m there yet,” Watt said. “I still think I’m working and trying to get back there, but it’s been fun to play, it’s been fun to win, it’s been fun to just go out there and make some plays. So, I want to continue to do it and make even more.”

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