AFC South: Houston Texans

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper went with cornerback Trae Waynes (the fastest defensive back at the combine) and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers (who led all offensive linemen with 37 bench press reps) as the Houston Texans' picks in his mock drafts. His counterpart Todd McShay has stayed consistent in both of his postseason mock draft, giving the Texans Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat both times.

Peat is a 6-foot-6, 313-pound junior who has long arms, measured at 34 3/8 inches.

McShay notes Peat's arm length as a positive, and I know that's an area that could use improvement on the Texans' offensive line. Peat played left tackle in college, but McShay projects him here under the assumption that the Texans would be comfortable moving him to left tackle to replace Derek Newton.

I've maintained that I see bigger needs for the Texans than right tackle. I think the Texans will re-sign Newton and keep their offensive tackles intact. Their free agency doings will have a significant impact on the way they handle their draft, because it will dictate what their needs are. With quarterback Ryan Mallett, cornerback Kareem Jackson, outside linebacker Brooks Reed and safety Kendrick Lewis all unsigned, there are several potential holes for the Texans to fill.
A favorite activity during NFL draft time is comparing this year's available players to those in years past. Termed a once-in-a-decade type talent, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney certainly drew comparisons to some of the NFL's great pass-rushers as he prepared to become the first overall pick last year.

So we'll take notice when, just a year later, Greg Cosell of NFL Films offers his thoughts on why he thinks there's an even better athlete in this year's draft. That would be Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory.

"Well he's a better athlete than Clowney," Cosell said when prompted by our friend Paul Kuharsky on Midday 180, a Nashville radio station. "He's more flexible. He's more explosive in his movement. Clearly not as strong. Clowney could get inside and push back. Clowney did not have the loose hips that this guy does. Gregory is a much more explosive mover, a much looser athlete."

The issue of the looseness of Clowney's hips caught my attention. Very shortly after signing his rookie contract with the Texans, Clowney had a sports hernia surgery that I've heard might have been an issue for a while before that. It's definitely an injury that could impact a player's flexibility and hip movements. Assuming Cosell's opinion was formed off college tape, which I think it was, that could explain some of what he saw.

Cosell went on to describe the difference in the two players' styles.

"It's like watching running backs," he said. "You know immediately when you watch running backs, the guys when they hit the point of attack are shifty and elusive versus the guys that are a little stiff and can't do that. Gregory's kind of shifty and elusive in his movement. He's a quick-twitch, explosive guy laterally. Clowney was more straight-line power."

You can listen to the full interview here. The extended portion about Clowney begins at the 12:28 mark. Earlier in the interview he talks about other pass-rushers, raving in particular about Florida's Dante Fowler Jr.
Several Houston Texans players and head coach Bill O'Brien attended an event Wednesday at Texas Children's Hospital, visiting with children as the team announced a seven-year partnership for the hospital to become the team's official hospital.

Several media members were invited to the event, and from their tweets, we learned a few things. Let's get to them, in list form, with the help of those reporters' tweets.

My take: This is the best Texans news anyone will get all year. David Quessenberry was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T lymphoblastic lymphoma last summer, spent the summer and fall undergoing aggressive treatments (read more about his journey here). Radiation followed chemotherapy and that process is now finished. In the aforementioned link, you'll read that this isn't the end of the road, but it's a very important and positive milestone for Quessenberry. Great news.

My take: Ryan Mallett said in December that he wants to be back with the Texans, and he repeated that Wednesday. He also provided this update on his pectoral muscle: He's started tossing the ball around, but is taking his recovery day to day. Mallett will hit free agency on March 10 if the Texans don't reach a deal with him before then. I'm betting it will happen.

My take: Chris Myers' future is an interesting one. He acknowledged to reporters that the business side of football comes into play. Simone Eli of KPRC tweeted that Myers has been working out with the team. Myers still has one year left on a contract he signed in 2012, and his salary-cap figure for that year is $8 million, which has spurred some of the discussion about his future.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Friday:
  • Watt
    J.J. Watt serves as a role model: Friday afternoon, Texans' defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted these three words: "High motor guy." He didn't explain it, but that designation is one he's talked about in the past with some annoyance, as if Watt's "motor" is all there is to him. Obviously, the two-time defensive player of the year, who garnered 13 overall MVP votes this season, was much more than that. He'd be pleased to know that one of the most talented defensive linemen at the combine looks to his game for ideas. Southern Cal defensive end Leonard Williams watches a lot of Watt. "He’s very versatile, like I see myself," Williams said. "When I see the film, I see how the coaches try to make mismatches, like they do for him, at USC. I try to pattern myself after a lot of things he does." It's a lofty and worthy pursuit.
  • What of Kendrick Lewis and Brooks Reed: We've talked a lot about Kareem Jackson, who is a high priority for the Texans defensively. The Texans have four other players who started last season set to hit the market. Two of the most prominent are outside linebacker Reed and safety Lewis. Lewis had an outstanding season for the Texans, playing on a one-year deal. He's not a guy the Texans will rush to sign, but one they'd love to have back at the right price. The Texans have had meetings or set meetings with many of their pending free agents, but haven't started negotiations with Reed. The clock is ticking, and their pause might mean Reed hits the market, which would increase the chances the Texans lose him. General manager Rick Smith made it clear yesterday that just because a player gets to free agency, that doesn't mean the Texans don't want him back. Tight end Garrett Graham is an example of that. He re-signed with the Texans last March 13.
  • Not lacking for confidence: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston opened his Friday news conference by acknowledging his mistakes, but then had a couple of exceedingly confident lines. He said he wants to win the Super Bowl next year. He also said, "A lot of people thought I was fat, but I look good and I know it!" Winston's demeanor stood in stark opposition to the more subdued Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. While the soft-spoken Mariota chose humility, Winston was exuberant. They're both qualities that can work in a quarterback, and how they fit on a team depends on the makeup of that team and its coach. These players both should be well out of the Texans reach, but they provide an interesting contrast.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In a draft class that wasn't especially productive, one of the most useful players the Houston Texans selected last season was running back Alfred Blue.

Blue was a sixth-round pick out of LSU, joining an armada of rookies out of LSU to have solid starts to their NFL careers. For Blue that meant becoming the first player in Texans history to score touchdowns on a return, a reception and a rush.

The Texans could look at that position again this season, for a variety of reasons.

"I think when you look at our needs in the draft, I would say running back is a position that we could look at," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I’m not going to tell you exactly what type of running back we’re looking for, but that’s something that we could probably add to our team in some shape or form that would help our team if the right guys out there."

Arian Foster is still a dynamic running back when he's healthy, but with each passing day, the need to manage his health becomes more and more important. He turns 29 in August and missed three full games last season and parts of three others due to injuries.

"I think any time a player reaches that age of 30 or close to that age of 30 (you have to manage him)," O'Brien said. "And you know that the guy can still play, you know that he is a very talented player. Arian is a very talented guy in a lot of phases. He can run the ball, he can catch the ball, he’s a good pass protector, he’s a smart football player, but you’ve got to manage him. How do you manage that? You manage him in practice. You manage him in the games. That’s something we’ll always take into account."

This year's draft class is conducive to getting a solid running back.

"There is a good group of running backs, good looking group that just weighed in," Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "It’s a good looking group."

This year's group should include a first-rounder in Georgia's Todd Gurley or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. There's plenty of talent beyond that too, in players like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Miami's Duke Johnson, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Northern Iowa's David Johnson.

The problem for running backs, though, is that there isn't a premium on snapping them up early. Teams have had so much success waiting with running backs or even finding them undrafted. Two of the three running backs on the Texans' roster were never drafted.

That could be a boon for the Texans, who draft 16th overall. They'll probably have options that could help them into the second round.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Wednesday:
  • Offensive line meetings: Offensive linemen, kickers, punters, long snappers and a few quarterbacks came in for interviews Wednesday. Most of the linemen had met with the Texans informally, as did Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett. For the linemen, that process included meeting with offensive line coach Mike Devlin, who was interested in learning more about their football IQ. They were asked to draw plays from college, were quizzed on their knowledge of how their offenses worked and occasionally were asked a few personal questions. Bennett is an intriguing prospect we'll hear more about. He lost a competition to Marcus Mariota at Oregon, then transferred to Southeastern Louisiana.
  • Teams seem generally impressed with this year's class of receivers, a year after a last season's excellent crop. I've said this before, but this is a great time to find the replacement for Andre Johnson, which will be necessary down the line. It would not behoove the Texans to go into that situation, whenever it happens, without a successor ready, with guys like Alabama's Amari Cooper, Louisville's DeVante Parker and West Virginia's Kevin White potentially available. Is this a trend or two-year blip on the radar? It's hard to say. But Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt noted the prevalence of spread offenses in college football has given more receivers the opportunity to develop. That could be why these receiver classes have been so deep lately.
  • Fun with physicals: The linemen had their medical evaluations, which led to some funny or cool moments for some. One said he liked actually being able to see his heart beating. Duke tackle Takoby Cofield was shocked at the size of his vertebrae. So shocked that he asked if that was normal: "I understand I'm a big guy, but the actual vertebrae in my back are like massive. I didn't realize the bones were that big. ... I was like, 'Is my vertebrae supposed to be this big?'" It was completely normal.
A closer look at the areas the Houston Texans could address in the draft. We'll continue today with a look at the linebackers, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Brian Cushing has remained a constant for the Texans when healthy and said his legs feel healthier than they have since before his back-to-back knee surgeries. The Texans have had a revolving door beside him ever since trading away DeMeco Ryans, though. A talented rookie, who might be drafted in the second round, could give this position stability it hasn't had in years.

Three players the Texans could target in the draft:

Benardrick McKinney (ILB), Mississippi State: McKinney is big, tall (6-foot-5) and powerful. McKinney was a semifinalist for the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi Awards and was named a first team all-American by ESPN, the Football Writers Association of America, Phil Steele and Sports Illustrated. During his three-year career at Mississippi State, he accrued 244 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sack, seven pass breakups and six fumble recoveries.

Eric Kendricks (ILB), UCLA: The brother of Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award and Lott Trophy. He was the school's all-time leading tackler with 481 and set a school record with 11 games with double-digit tackles. His 6-0, 230-pound size might be an issue for some teams, but his college production should catch plenty of attention.

Stephone Anthony (ILB), Clemson: Anthony had 74 tackles in his senior season. Size won't be a problem here, as he's 6-foot-3, 245 pounds. Anthony had 90 tackles -- 10.5 for loss -- 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles, starting 12 of the 13 games in which he played. He's athletic, made a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and was a Butkus Award semifinalist.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As I stopped to fill up my car on the way to the airport this morning, a woman standing outside the station suddenly began shrieking the word "snowing!" Indeed, a few intrepid snowflakes fluttered down onto my car and melted immediately.

As much snow, it turned out, as I'd see falling from the sky upon landing in Indianapolis. The ground was a different story.

Hello from the site of the yearly NFL scouting combine, where exhausted players will hardly sleep as they get poked and prodded, both mentally by coaches and personnel men and physically by doctors, then perform their on-field workouts.

It's a big week of information gathering. Teams and media alike will learn a lot. Here's what I hope to learn this week.
  1. Progress with pending free agents: The Houston Texans have several players who will become free agents. I'll be checking in to see if any progress has been made with those players, especially cornerback Kareem Jackson, quarterback Ryan Mallett, outside linebacker Brooks Reed and offensive tackle Derek Newton. Those are four important players who I believe the Texans would like to retain. Whether that means they will be retained remains to be seen. The free-agent market, especially at cornerback and quarterback, favors the seller. The structure of the combine makes it easy for these meetings. Free agency is still about three weeks away, so deals aren't necessarily finished this week. Still, a great deal of headway can be made during meetings here in Indianapolis.
  2. Jadeveon Clowney update: During the Senior Bowl last month, general manager Rick Smith gave an update on Clowney's progress since having microfracture surgery in December. At the time, he was about six weeks out from the procedure, and hadn't yet put weight on the injury. Another month later it'd be great to learn the progress of last year's first overall draft pick. This is a difficult injury from which to recover. I'd be curious to know how he's approached his rehab and how successful it's been so far. Smith and Texans coach Bill O'Brien are both scheduled to talk Thursday.
  3. The Texans' early impressions of this year's quarterbacks: Last season, there was an agreement of sorts, it seemed, between all those who talked about the draft that there were three quarterbacks who were clearly better than the rest: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. When O'Brien was asked about the quarterbacks, he swam against the current. O'Brien said he did not feel there was a huge separation between a large group of quarterbacks in the draft, not elevating those three above the rest. What became clear, especially during the draft, was that the Texans just weren't sold on any of the quarterbacks, not enough to use a high pick or trade any lower picks for them. Though it's possible the answer is in Mallett, quarterback is still a bit of a question mark. Though the Texans will have a lesser chance of getting anyone they want this year, I'm interested in O'Brien's and Smith's thoughts so far on what they've learned.
  4. How the Texans view their cap situation: The Texans have a lot of money and cap space tied up in several veterans, some less expendable than others. Their activity in free agency both with their own free agents and external free agents will be based on how they view their cap situation. From there, we should also learn more about the Texans intentions in free agency. Will they be active? Will they take the same thrifty approach they did last season?
  5. 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill times, verticals, bench press reps: And a whole host of other stats that have very little bearing on actual football. The workout portion of this week is less important than everything else teams learn from the combine. That said, a bad workout can raise red flag, which is why players spend months training their bodies to do things that aren't exactly useful on the football field.
A closer look at the areas the Houston Texans could address in the NFL draft. We'll get started today with a look at the receivers, who are scheduled to work out Saturday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Andre Johnson's cap figure this season is very high and the Texans have some options there, but that discussion is entirely irrelevant to this one. Johnson, who will be 34 in July, is nearing the end of his career. While they might not have a dire need for another dynamic receiver in the immediate future, they'll need one soon and this is a great year to find one.

Three players the Texans could target in the draft:

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: This 6-foot-3, 208-pound senior showed his big play capability in a season in which he averaged 19.9 yards per catch. Having missed the first seven games with a broken toe, Parker racked up 855 yards in just six games -- five regular-season games and the Belk Bowl in which he caught eight passes for 120 yards against Georgia. He's skilled, focused and great on contested catches, having some spectacular highlights to prove it.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: Here's another guy with good size at 6-3, 215 pounds, size that likely helped him haul in one of the more improbable plays of the season -- a Hail Mary catch that gave the Sun Devils their first road win over USC since 1999. Strong was a junior college transfer in 2013, and had two solid seasons with Arizona State. He had 82 catches for 1,165 yards in 2014. Strong has big-play ability and good hands.

Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF: His quarterback became the third overall pick in the draft last year, but even after losing Blake Bortles, Perriman remained productive. Perriman caught 50 passes to the 39 he caught in the 2013 season. He averaged 20.9 yards per catch a slight improvement to the 20.8 yards per catch he had with Bortles. His statistics weren't flashy, and he had only three 100-yard games, but he's fast, athletic and big (6-3, 214 pounds). He has already shown his talent and his game has room to grow.
HOUSTON -- This offseason hasn't felt unique to Kareem Jackson, so far.

He'll still wander into the Houston Texans facility, get a workout in, hang out with his teammates and feel like a Texan.

That could change for Jackson this offseason; the team that raised him might not be his home anymore. A deal before the market opens in March is a distinct possibility. Barring that, though, Jackson could become a coveted free agent, following a strong and versatile 2014 season.

"Honestly, it hasn’t really hit me yet," Jackson said. "I’m not really sure when it will."

Jackson had 57 tackles, three interceptions and nine passes defensed this season. He played in the slot more than he did in his previous four seasons (440 snaps inside this season, 284 in all the rest), while remaining a primary outside corner when the defense called for only two. It was a season that highlighted the steady improvement he's shown since a difficult start to his NFL career.

"To see where we’ve grown as an organization and me as a player, I guess it’s just a testament to how hard the coaching staff and the GM and how hard Bob and Cal have worked to get the right people here, to get the team going in the right direction, as well as me," Jackson said. "For them to get the right coaches in to help me progress my game. For me to work hard and progress my game on my own, the offseason and stuff, I guess that just kind of shows what hard work’s all about."

Their support mattered to Jackson, too. While many called for a change away from Jackson, a 2010 first-round pick, the Texans believed in his future and ability.

"They’ve always been in my corner," Jackson said. "It’s always been positive from them and from me. it’s just one of those things. You have growing pains, but at the end of the day, you get to a point and you’re comfortable."

That will factor into Jackson's thinking this offseason. So will what he saw during the 2014 season, in which new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and the staff helped Houston rise from 2-14 to 9-7, on the brink of a playoff berth.

"I’d love to be back here," Jackson said. "What Coach O'Brien has brought here with the coaches and stuff like that, with the system and stuff like that, I definitely want to be a part of what’s starting to happen last year and progressing into the future."
HOUSTON -- The cast around Brian Cushing's surgically repaired wrist was mostly hidden underneath the suit he wore to a charity fashion show in Houston. It's the remnant of a very difficult season for the star Texans linebacker.

"There's a different mindset when you go out onto the field and you know you're 100 percent and you know you're going to take over a game," Cushing said. "And there's [the mindset] where you know you're probably going to be limited, and it's tough. The worst feeling in the world is being on the sideline. There was a good amount of time during critical games last year I was [on the sideline]. And sometimes not even playing, missing two games. As a captain and a guy who's been here for a while, I consider myself a big impact player.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsBrian Cushing is aiming to rebound next season after seeing his playing time decrease in 2014.
"To get that taken away from you is kind of an empty feeling. But it's not forever."

As Cushing sees it, the toughest stretch of his career is now over, and he has no doubt he'll return to the dominance he showed before his torn ACL in 2012.

"I'm 28; I feel like I've gotten over the stretch of the hardest part of my career," Cushing said. "I don't see anything even comparable to what happened. I still feel it. Certain games when I do feel healthy, I come back and I feel like myself and I know I'm just playing football."

The Brian Cushing we all saw last season was not the same player who was once the soul of the Texans' defense. He often told us during the season his health was fine, but on Wednesday evening, he admitted those words might have been partially to convince himself.

"I want to tell myself I'm all right," he said. "I believe in a lot of positive energy and not believing that I'm hurt or banged up and pushing through things. I consider myself a pretty tough guy, I can handle a lot of things. But you know, I was obviously hurt in more than one area of my body. I didn't want to complain about it. I didn't want to complain about it or make any excuses."

It was all part of a season in which Cushing saw his playing time diminish as the team tried to manage his health. From the start of 2009 through Game 5 of 2012, Cushing played in 84.7 percent of the team’s third- and fourth-down snaps. This season, he played in only 34.9 percent of them.

His play has still been effective for the Texans, who allowed 0.83 more yards per play with Cushing off the field than with him on it over the past two seasons.

Throughout the season he had conversations with general manager Rick Smith, coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel about being smart with his health and making sure he went into 2015 healthy.

Patience, though, is difficult for the man who is as intense about football off the field as he is on it. The advice of others who have had similar experiences has helped.

"I've still got that burning fire and enjoyment for the game," Cushing said. "For practice, for Wednesdays when we put our game plan in, it's a great feeling. There's definitely no loss of passion or fun for the game. Many guys who I've talked to who have been hurt [say] a lot of times [that] happens. You're so tired of getting hurt and don't want to put up with it anymore. That's the least of my worries."
The Houston Texans officially announced the hires of four assistant coaches on Tuesday: defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, offensive line coach Mike Devlin, offensive assistant Pat O'Hara, and strength and conditioning assistant Brian Bell.

Pasqualoni, who compiled a 107-59-1 record in 14 seasons as the head coach at Syracuse, spent the 2013-14 seasons as the Chicago Bears' offensive line coach. He also coached tight ends (2005) and linebackers (2006-07) with the Dallas Cowboys before becoming the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator from 2008-09. Pasqualoni spent a season as Dallas' defensive coordinator in 2010 before taking over as the head coach at Connecticut in 2011.

Devlin spent the past nine seasons with the New York Jets, where he was the offensive line and tight ends coach. He also served on the Arizona Cardinals' staff (2000-03) and at the University of Toledo (2004-05).

O'Hara has spent the past 10 seasons in the Arena Football League, including head coaching stops with the Tri-Cities Fever, Orlando Predators, and New Orleans Voo Doo. Bell had previously worked with Texans head strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald at Penn State from 2012-13.

In addition to the hires, Anthony Pleasant has been moved from strength and conditioning assistant to defensive assistant.

It's been a very long time since a defensive player has won the league's MVP award -- 29 years, in fact. It's also been that long since any defensive player received as many votes for MVP as the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt did, according to

In fact, since 1999, when the MVP voters were reduced to 50, there hasn't been a defensive player to get as many MVP votes, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Watt received 13 of the league's 50 MVP votes. Aaron Rodgers received 31, Tony Romo 2, DeMarco Murray 2, Tom Brady 1 and Bobby Wagner 1. That Watt swayed so many in a league so geared toward offense speaks to his dominance this season.

His 20.5 sacks made him the first player since sacks were recorded to have multiple 20-sack seasons. He also finished with 10 pass breakups and five touchdowns.

Can Watt win the league's top individual award?

"Well, it’s tough, to be honest with you," Rodgers said. "He knows that it’s an offensive-geared league and a quarterback or a running back usually wins this award. It’s probably tough, but I think if anybody can do it, it’s him."

There are many who'd agree with that sentiment, especially those who've played against Watt and with him. He impacts every play either with something he does or with the attention opposing offenses have to pay to locate him.

What hurt Watt more than anything was that his position is not one that can dictate the result of a game as much as the quarterback position can. There were times this season when the Texans' defense was dominant enough to win, but the team lost. The second contest against Indianapolis comes to mind -- a game the Texans lost 17-10, largely because they lost quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a broken leg during the game.

The Texans went 9-7, a significant improvement over 2013's 2-14, and narrowly missed the playoffs. There were likely voters, though, who felt averse to selecting a player whose team didn't make the playoffs, though that again goes back to the possible impact of a player's position on wins and losses.

Watt is not the league's MVP today, but another season like this one could turn more heads than the 13 who took notice this time.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt likes to get away during offseasons.

Not away from working out, but away from everything else, at least for a time.

Last season, that manifested itself in his dropping a mattress on his friend's dining room floor and sleeping there while he put himself through two-a-days, living what he termed a "Rocky" lifestyle. This season he has a new location for those solitary workout days, as he bought himself a simple cabin in Wisconsin.

"It’s really minimalistic," Watt told the Houston Chronicle. "The only thing I have to focus on is training, and that’s the way I like it. There’s no frills. There’s nothing to distract you up here."

Though a superstar in Houston, Wisconsin is Watt's home. He grew up and went to college there and has said he wants to retire there some day. His favorite line about the accolades and records he's accumulated this season is that someday he'll enjoy those accomplishments sitting on his porch in Wisconsin, cracking a beer.

Probably not in the winter months, though. In those, when he isn't on a photo shoot with Katy Perry, jumping over Jimmy Kimmel or intercepting Pro Bowl quarterbacks, he'll retreat to his bunker.

Watt told Sports Illustrated's Don Banks he bought the cabin during the season.

"After this week, I get to go back there and just kind of lay low," he told Banks. "It’s in southeast Wisconsin, but it’s out a little bit. I’ve actually only slept there four nights so far. ... I always go back to Wisconsin, but this is my first year of actually having a place. I’m excited about that."
Throughout his historic season, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt insisted awards were far from his thoughts. He preferred to focus on what he could control -- those unceasing early morning workouts, the constant pursuit of finding ways to wreak more havoc on the field.

 It led to one of the finest performances that any defensive player has ever had and revealed Watt as the best player in the NFL.

MVP worthy? Saturday evening, that debate will close when the league announces its most valuable player.

Watt will get at least one MVP nod from Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain who has one of the 50 MVP votes, which were collected weeks ago. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, though, was named the PFWA player of the year, with Watt as the PFWA defensive player of the year, which could be an indication of an edge Rodgers has over Watt.

It's hard to argue the value of a great quarterback, just by the nature of the game. As such, maybe it's worth considering that the highest individual award in the league shouldn't be one that's so inherently skewed toward one position.

Watt finished the season with 20.5 sacks, nine batted passes, two defensive touchdowns, three offensive touchdowns and 59 solo tackles. Included among his highlights: He was the first NFL player ever to have 20 or more sacks in more than one season, the first player since a six-game division schedule began to notch 14 sacks against division opponents, the first ever to have three touchdown catches, a pick six and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Watt was also the first defensive lineman since 1944 to have five touchdowns in a season.

One way or another Watt will be honored tomorrow. If he doesn't win MVP, he'll be the league's defensive player of the year, giving him that award twice in three seasons. If he isn't named MVP, that won't diminish an incredible season. It could even deliver some motivation for the future -- after all, he's only 25.