Greatest Player: JJ Watt
Even if you consider that J.J. Watt has missed the majority of the 2016 and 2017 NFL seasons with various injuries, we’re still talking about one of the greatest defensive players of this generation.
Watt is the only player in NFL history to finish with more than 20 sacks in back-to-back seasons (2013 and 2014), and is one of only two players to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times (the other is Lawrence Taylor). Before his recent bouts with injuries, he was the unquestioned best defensive player in the NFL.
Runner Up: Andre Johnson
People often forget that Andre Johnson was the 3rd overall pick and joined a team in its second year of existence. The Texans needed him to immediately step in as their top receiver, and Johnson did just that. At 6’3’’ and 220 lbs., few receivers have Johnson’s size and strength, and even fewer receivers knew how to use it as well as he did.
He’s the only receiver in NFL history with 60 or more catches in each of his first eight seasons in the league. Johnson had seven seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving and three with over 1,500 yards. He did it all without playing alongside elite quarterbacks or always having much help around him. Johnson was one of the rare receivers who could put a team on his back and carry them throughout a season.
Challenger: Deshaun Watson
Let’s face it: Deshaun Watson has probably made Bill O’Brien look like a much better coach than he already is, mostly because Watson has the ability to single-handedly put the offense on his back and will them to victory, in spite of the coaching — or total lack thereof — he’s received during his NFL career to date.
But in his first three seasons in the NFL, Watson has already been named to the Pro Bowl twice, and has combined for more than 30 touchdowns (passing and rushing) in two of his first three seasons — both of which he took his Houston Texans to the playoffs. And the scary thing is, he’s still getting better .