After finishing with just one sack and 16 tackles in seven games a season ago, Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt comes in ranked 14th in Ben Linsey’s Pro Football Focus interior defender rankings.
Watt suffered a variety of injuries that kept him out a majority of the season before coming back for the NFC Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Watt was diagnosed with a torn labrum, rotator cuff and biceps, as well as enduring a dislocated shoulder.
Linsey separated the interior defenders into different tiers.
Watt finds himself ranked atop tier four, which is labeled as “nearing the end of career, but still impactful,” according to Linsey.
From a divisional perspective, according to Linsey, Watt is the second-best interior defender in the NFC West. Rams star defensive end Aaron Donald is the only defender from the division ahead of him.
Watt will go down as one of the greatest “what-ifs” of this generation of NFL players. A dominant four-year stretch from 2012 to 2015 that included three Defensive Player of the Year trophies was followed by fewer than 500 defensive snaps in three of the next four seasons. Watt failed to reach that threshold again last year with the Cardinals.
When healthy, he’s still one of the most difficult defensive linemen in the league to block. Watt’s 18.3% pass-rush win rate ranked fifth among all interior defensive linemen with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps prior to his injury in 2021.
Watt turned 33 years old last March as he approaches his 11th season in the league. Watt will look to recapture his early career success in his second season with Arizona.
With former Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones joining the Las Vegas Raiders this upcoming year, the next best Cardinals pass rusher would be outside linebacker Markus Golden.
Golden played in 16 games last season, putting up a team-leading 11 sacks as well as 48 tackles.
Watt and Golden will look to anchor the Cardinals’ pass rush with the departure of Jones.