KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If anyone should have a beef with the Pro Bowl, it’s Rodney Hudson, without whom, given an offensive line held together otherwise by masking tape, Silly Putty and hope, Alex Smith might have seen various other precious body parts ruptured.
But after he was the 15th player taken — by "Team Carter," which may or may not be a comic-book show on ABC — and the sixth defender off the board who wasn’t a captain, Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston went to Twitter earlier this week to say this:
As the NFL sack leader, I'm a lil mad I didn't go earlier but im happy I wasn't the last pick #probowldraft
In football and comedy, timing is everything. Given a contract year, No. 50 absolutely crushed it by racking up the most productive season of his football life: 22 quarterback takedowns — a new single-season Chiefs record and tied for No. 2 all-time in NFL history — to go along with five pass break-ups and four fumbles forced.
Houston pushed Derrick Thomas’ name down a half-peg, and in this town, that’s messing with football royalty. Pro Football Focus grade: +51.1, the highest ever by a 3-4 outside linebacker since the site began releasing its numbers in 2007.
If Houston was Godzilla, Houston’s J.J. Watt was Mechagodzilla. The Texans’ defensive end collected 20 1/2 sacks, an interception (for an 80-yard score, no less), 10 pass break-ups, five fumble recoveries and a safety. The big lug was accountable for five touchdowns, all told — one on a pick, one on a fumble recovery and three more as a receiver.
He was Houston’s best defender and best red-zone tight end, and an old-school, two-way monster and a fantasy beast. The stunts your cousin pulls on his XBox with virtual NFL players, Watt did for real. PFF grade: +107.5, the highest ever for a pass-rusher, period, over the past eight seasons.
Watt was so outstanding and so prescient — dude was the LeBron of the NFL, his highlights were everywhere — that the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award has already been etched with his name for weeks, if not months. The NFL 101 Club of Kansas City, Houston’s backyard, even tapped Big No. 99 as the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. And there are some voters who insist that Watt, and not Green Bay gunslinger Aaron Rodgers, should take home league MVP honors as well; Mechagodzilla was that good.
So basically, Houston picked the perfect year to be absolutely unblockable. And the worst year. All in the same breath.
Not that there isn’t precedent. Of the eight players prior to 2014 who collected 20 or more sacks in a season, only half wound up taking home Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors that same year: Michael Strahan in 2001, Reggie White in 1987, Lawrence Taylor in 1986, and Watt in 2012. Houston very well could be joining the four on the wrong side of the fence: Mark Gastineau in 1984, Jared Allen in 2011, Chris Doleman in 1989, and Thomas in 1990.
More remarkable: Since 1983, the Chiefs have sent six defensive players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — a group that includes Thomas, Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and Buck Buchanan — and have yet to have a player tapped as AP Defensive Player of the Year, an award that began in 1971. Houston wasn’t even the first outside linebacker off the board during the Pro Bowl selection show — that distinction went to Denver’s Von Miller.
J.J. gets silverware; Justin gets scraps.
At least No. 50 won’t walk away from Super Bowl week completely empty-handed: During the NFL’s awards show on Jan. 31, Houston is slated to receive — Huzzah! — the Deacon Jones Award, given annually to the NFL’s sack leader. Short-term, the bank account will be fine. So will the ego. The mantel, though, deserves better.