J.J. Watt leads 2011 class (so far)

In ranking early returns from the 2011 draft class, Watt takes the lead

Originally Published: October 13, 2012
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
J.J WattBrett Davis/US PresswireNo 2011 draft pick has played better so far in his career than Houston's J.J. Watt.

It's a good thing he didn't stay at tight end. As a college freshman at Central Michigan, that was J.J. Watt's role. After leaving football briefly and then landing at Wisconsin, he moved to the other side of the ball. Watt was pretty good at Wisconsin in 2010, then very good in 2011, but he might look back on that time and wonder why he managed only seven sacks in his final year.

Watt already has 7.5 sacks for Houston in 2012 and is simply dominating opposing offenses thus far this season. And the brief look back isn't some statement about the power of perseverance; it's a reminder that Watt is still very young and perhaps just now starting to realize his full potential. It's a reminder that while Watt's draft position at No. 11 overall was a good fit given the skills he'd shown to that point, the ability of players to take their games to another level will always be something we're merely projecting, never assuming.

I was asked to line up the best players so far from the 2011 class, and Watt sits at the top. Wade Phillips' exceptional scheming has taken the Texans' defense from perhaps the league's worst unit in 2010 to among the top few today, but Watt has been the central character in that transformation.

Watt isn't the only guy from that class to already effect a transformation. Let's line them up.

1. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans (No. 11 overall)

If he continues at this pace, Watt will be an easy pick for defensive player of the year. He's been simply incredible as a disruptive player against both the run and the pass, and he's doing it as a mix of a 3- and 5-technique, constantly exposed to double-teams.


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Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst