By the numbers: J.J. Watt’s incredible 12-year career

Jan 14, 2023, 7:07 AM

Defensive end J.J. Watt will forever be recognized as one of the best defensive players to ever step foot on a football field, and his 12-year career ended right here in the Valley.

Watt’s last two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals were full of great moments led by his leadership, mentorship and involvement with the community. In 23 games with the Cardinals, Watt tallied 13.5 sacks, 55 tackles, 35 QB hits and instilled a positive impact in the locker room.

With one of the greatest defensive players of all-time hanging up the cleats, here are nine takeaways for No. 99.


In his prime, Watt took over the NFL on the defensive line and he has the numbers and the hardware to prove it.

Watt was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times in his first five seasons, joining Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor as the only three to win the award three separate times.

The only two seasons in the first five years of his career that he didn’t win DPOY were his rookie season (Texans’ rookie of the year) and his third year (Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro Honors), but at least he was able to add some fluff to his trophy collection.

The Houston Texan

The Texans made their only six playoff appearances as a franchise with Watt on the roster but never made it past the divisional round.

He is the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks (101) and forced fumbles (25), with the next closest in both categories being Whitney Mercilus with 57 sacks and 13 forced fumbles.

Without debate, he is the best Houston Texan of all time. When you think of the Texans, you’ll always think of J.J. Watt.

Happy sack

It’s fair to say Watt enjoyed tackling the quarterback. From his arsenal of sack celebrations to his complete takeover of games, Watt knew how to put on a show.

Since his rookie season in 2011, Watt has the third-most sacks (114.5), trailing only Cameron Jordan (115.5) and Von Miller (123.5). To make up for not being at the top of this list, he had 20.5 sacks in each of the 2012 and 2014 seasons and became the only player to have 20-plus in multiple seasons since sacks were tracked in 1982.

Watt is one of eight players to lead the league in sacks multiple times and finished off his career 24th all-time in career sacks, while also being just the fourth player in NFL history to record at least 100 sacks in his first 120 games.

Wide receiver?

Larry Fitzgerald is widely known as the best wide receiver in Cardinals history and one of the top receivers of all time. In 2014, he started 13 games and caught two touchdowns to lead the Cardinals to the Wild Card game that year.

Over in Houston that same year, Watt caught three touchdowns and also returned a fumble and interception for a touchdown.

In 2014, Watt became the only player in NFL history to catch three touchdown passes and have both a fumble recovery and interception returned for a touchdown.

It’s safe to say that Watt was a top scoring threat for the Texans that season.


Because Watt was such a menace in one-on-one matchups, teams would often double team him to add some protection.

Over the last five seasons, Watt’s double-team percentage was 29.8%, which is the highest out of 55 qualified pass rushers with 400 pass rush plays — all of which came after the peak of his career.

Even during his final season, Watt drew the highest rate of double teams among edge rushers, per ESPN. Not a bad way to end a career.


From 2012-15, Watt had the most sacks (69), tackles for loss (119) and QB hits (190) in the NFL, with a large gap from the next man up in each category.

His superhero nickname was “J.J. Swat,” with his main power being able to bat down passes. His 60 career batted-down passes are by far the most in the NFL since he joined the league in 2011.

Good guy

Although Watt’s goal on the field was to tackle and hit as many people as possible, his goal off the field arguably speaks bigger volumes.

He won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2017 after his incredible impact on the Texas community after the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Watt began with a simple video on social media asking people to donate whatever they could and ended up raising $41.6 million through his page on to make it the largest crowd-sourced fundraiser in history, per ESPN.

He is also the president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation. The “Dream Big, Work Hard” foundation focuses on providing afterschool opportunities to children in different communities so they can get involved in athletics in a safe environment.

The last dance

Watt was able to almost play a full campaign (16 of 17 games) in his last season despite experiencing atrial fibrillation and having his heart shocked back into rhythm.

In 2022, he recorded 12.5 sacks and 25 QB hits and shed light on a season in which Arizona finished a disappointing 4-13. Each game, Watt also spent time playing catch with fans and spent five minutes at Levi’s Stadium playing catch with fans in his last game.

To wrap it all up, Watt recorded two sacks and was given a standing ovation exit by the 49er faithful at the two-minute warning.

Brotherly love

With J.J. Watt hanging up the cleats, there are still two more Watts to terrorize the NFL for many years to come. J.J.’s brothers, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. and fullback Derek, have been teammates for three years in Pittsburgh.

With T.J. already winning his own DPOY award and being one of the best defensive players in the league, it’s safe to say the family is following in J.J.’s footsteps.

It will be interesting to see if J.J. bleeds the black and yellow to support his brothers, but the Watt family has already written itself its own book in the series of NFL history, with J.J. being the main chapter.

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By the numbers: J.J. Watt’s incredible 12-year career