Making the Grade: Defensive line
Now that the Super Bowl is over and the NFL is into the offseason, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Texans. We’ve already looked at the secondary, tight ends, O-line, special teams, running backs and coaches. Today, we’ll dive into the defensive line.
Stud: J.J. Watt
This one wasn’t very hard to pick. J.J. Watt was one of the best players in the league on either side of the ball. He won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, taking 49 of 50 possible votes.
He didn’t just have a good season; he had what might have been the best season a defensive lineman has ever had. Defensive coordinator said Watt’s season was the best by a defensive lineman ever.
The 6-5, 295-pound physical freak led the NFL with 20.5 sacks. He had 16 passes defensed, the most a lineman has ever had. He became the first player in NFL history with 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in a season.
According to ProFootballFocus, a website that grades players on a play-by-play basis, Watt was by far the best defensive end in football. In fact, his 101.6 grade in the regular season was by far the best in the NFL.
Dud: Shaun Cody
It wasn’t that Cody had a bad season … he didn’t. But he’s the dud after a process of elimination. Antonio Smith had the best year of his career and Earl Mitchell filled in really well for Cody when he needed to.
Cody had some trouble staying on the field in 2012. He played in 12 games and missed several with a rib injury.
Free agents: Cody
Look ahead: Cody made $1.625 million in the final year of his contract in 2012, which leaves the Texans in an interesting position this offseason.
Will they be willing to pay how much it costs to keep Cody when they have a very capable Mitchell waiting for a starting gig? According to ProFootballFocus, Cody finished 2012 with a negative-6.1 grade, while Mitchell finished the year with a 3.5 grade. Mitchell actually played 435 snaps in 2012, while Cody had just 293. It might make sense for the Texans to let Cody go and look toward the draft to find another nose tackle.
As far as the two ends go, expect more big things in 2012. Watt has already pledged to get better, which is a scary concept. He’s under contract through 2014.
Antonio Smith will be a free agent after next season, a season in which he’ll make $6 million with a $9.5 million cap hit. The Texans will have a tough decision to make after next season but for now, they can feel comfortable with bringing Smith back on the opposite end of Watt. Smith said 2012 was his best season in his career. Certainly he was helped by Watt's big year but he helped Watt some too.