J.J. Watt deserves No. 1 player ranking

— -- So #NFLRANK has broken cover and Aaron Rodgers was edged out for the top spot by J.J. Watt.

Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game and given the way the modern NFL is, by definition also it's most valuable player, but does that necessarily mean he is also the best player period?

Hard as it is to believe, Watt may still be underrated by the vast majority of people out there who don't quite grasp just how good he is. We are way past the point of calling Watt merely a great player and we are now into the realm of generationally great, and possibly greatest of all time. We are often too quick to leap to those designations for players, but Watt belongs with them. By the time he hangs them up he may go down in history as the greatest defensive player to play the game.

Those are the kind of terms we need to start appreciating Watt in, rather than just accepting that he is definitely elite.

Any discussion of Watt needs to focus on just how much better and more dominant he is than comparable players. He stands clear of his peers in a way that Rodgers does not.

Rodgers may lead the league in categories or PFF grading, but he doesn't put up numbers that make it look like he is playing a different game to other players. During last season I wrote a story that attempted to put Watt's dominance into quarterback terms. His dominance on the defensive line is the equivalent of a 7,100-yard, 70-touchdown passing season, or a 2,800-yard rushing season.

Comparing Watt to the rest of the field at his position is like looking at the difference between Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Alex Smith. The gulf between them is colossal.

As just the latest example of numbers that come up and make you do a double-take when it comes to Watt, PFF noted that Gerald McCoy has led all defensive tackles with 125 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) over the past two seasons. Watt had 119 just last season, and McCoy is really good.

Watt more than doubled the second best figure at his position for total pressures last season, and that is more or less a trend across the board. His PFF grade was more than double that of Sheldon Richardson in second. He had double the number of batted passes of the next best player, more than double the sacks, and more than three times the next best pass-rushing grade.

He holds the best three seasons that PFF has graded for 3-4 defensive ends with an average grade of +100.5. Justin Smith was the best 3-4 end in the league before Watt arrived and he averaged just +36.4 over the three-year span in which he led the league in grade.

Typically, edge rushers generate pressure at a much greater rate than interior defenders. They have further to travel to get to the quarterback but they have more space to work with and they're less likely to be right in the quarterback's field of vision. Edge rushers generate pressure on average on 11.5 percent of their pass rushing snaps in the NFL, while interior defenders get pressure on just 7.5 percent of theirs. Watt generated pressure on 18.8 percent of his pass-rushing snaps in 2014, which wasn't just way better than the average, but was better than every edge rusher in the NFL other than Justin Houston (19.1 percent).

Ndamukong Suh led all defensive tackles in total pressures last season with 57 (only 61 fewer than Watt), and he generated pressure on just 10.9 percent of his pass rushing snaps. Gerald McCoy was at 11.8 percent, Calais Campbell at 9.3 percent. Watt is in a different stratosphere than these guys, and is redefining what we thought was possible for a player at his position.

Only 10 men have ever notched 20 sacks or more in a single season, and Watt has done it twice in his first four years in the league. He already has 57 career sacks, which is as many as LaMarr Woodley and half a sack less than Richard Seymour or Ed 'Too Tall" Jones managed in their entire careers. If he notches another 20-sack season he would finish the year with more than Jevon Kearse, Mark Gastineau (who has a 20-sack season to his name) and James Harrison.

Bruce Smith is the NFL's all-time sack leader with 200, but it took him 18 seasons to get there. At 18 seasons of Watt's current pace (which included his 5-sack rookie season) he would finish with 256.5 sacks. If he plays for 15 years (the same as Reggie White) he would have 214 sacks, and if anything sacks to date have been underselling his impact as a pass-rusher.

Rodgers ended last season atop PFF's grading for quarterbacks with a score of +40.4. Drew Brees was second with a +32.6 (81 percent of Rodgers' score). As good as Rodgers was, PFF graded Peyton Manning's 2013 better. Rodgers threw 38 touchdowns (third) had a passer rating of 112.2 (second), gained 8.4 yards per attempt (second), threw an interception on just 1.0 percent of his pass attempts (first) and completed 65.6 percent of his passes (10th). All of this adds up to the best quarterback in the NFL when you throw in the great intangible, immeasurable things, but it's not the same magnitude of dominance over the field that Watt has.

You could make a pretty good argument that Brees is as good, or Peyton Manning, even Ben Roethlisberger. Even if they're not quite there, it's a valid debate. There is nobody you can even hold up to Watt and discuss whether they are as good, nobody even in the conversation.

Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, and he may end up going down as an all-time great. J.J. Watt is something else entirely. He is a generationally great player, and is already one of the best to ever play the game. The only question is how long his career will be and how high up the record charts he will climb.

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